Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Glass: Futuristic... and Freaky

Say, "cheese"... Clarice

Recently, I wrote a blog entry regarding the false need for smartphones and my unwillingness to upgrade with the rest of the world. At the end of the piece, I jokingly said I'd break down and upgrade when Google Glass hit the market due to my glasses fetish. Since then, however, I've had time to consider a world viewed through the futuristic lens of Google's all-seeing eye. Despite my childhood-seeded desire for living in a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk society, I've become reluctant to see the dreams of Google Glass fully realized. In our age of ultra advanced technology, each new tech faces a fine line between a being helpful... and eerie. In this case, I find Google's attempt in making the next jump in modern communication a leap that lands on the creepy side.

Before any further discussion in regards to its ethics, I'd like to give a run down on what exactly Google Glass is and does for those of you who are unfamiliar. I think Google's marketing has done a splendid job of this already, so I will provide their advertisement before I make my own rundown:

Pretty neat, huh?

Google Glass is essentially a smart phone you wear on your face. The screen of your phone is now embedded constantly in your field of view, giving you a HUD(head's up display) for your life. It's augmented reality technology at its most extreme-- the realization of the geekiest of fantasies.

Simply put, Google glass is a smartphone in the form of eye glasses that's always on, and it's on your face. It's a lot like a Bluetooth device in that it frees up ones hands, but it takes the convenience factor a step further by also freeing up your eyes. With Glass, all your applications are but a voice command away from entering your field of vision. No longer do you need to reach for your pocket to check the time. Just say, "Glass, clock," and like magic the time will appear before your very eyes-- overlayed seamlessly with your reality. Need to check on a stock? An E-mail? A Facebook notification? A nanny cam? All such activities have been delegated to a word, and you're but a blink away from seeing them.

Yet the draw here, is something much deeper than being a hands and eye free device. The Glass sees what you see, meaning it is now a part of you. The line between humanity and technology is now blurred, and the rules of reality are no longer constrained to physics. With a pair of Google Glasses, the need for memory and  analytic observation is obsolete. Need to remember an important business meeting? Record it with the glass from the convenience of your face! Unsure of where to go whilst vacationing in Venice, Italy? Arrows appear before your eyes, telling you right where to walk! Run into your ol' pal, What's-His-Name? Avoid social awkwardness with the device's facial recognition. Now Buddy Everyman's name is hovering right over his head! This invention removes a huge inconvenience from daily life-- thinking.  It's an innovation in thought that eliminates the need for mental work in the same way restaurants and grocery stores eliminate the need to hunt and gather food.

So far I've put no bias in my description of what Google Glass is and does, but I'm willing to bet you're feeling something's a little off about the tech, aren't you? Despite Google's earnest intentions, this advancement perhaps goes a little too far in the way of simplifying your daily routine. In my opinion there are two major flaws working against this tech on an ethical level, the first of which you might have already gathered just by hearing me detail what the device does. By wearing a pair of Google Glasses, part of your humanity diminishes-- you become a cyborg.

For many, that's a good thing and there's so many handicapped individuals that will benefit greatly from having computerized eyes. Subtitles for the deaf. Sight to audio conversion for the blind. A memory database for those with head injuries, Alzheimer's or any other form of mental deterioration that hinders recall. But what does this do to the unhindered? With Wikipedia in our eyes, what need do we have for education? With apps to analyze our surroundings, why do we need to learn anything at all? The need for mathematical ability has already been eliminated due to the calculator, but now the benefit of learning anything will be null. Sure, regular smart phones are already doing this but Glass's ease of access and ability to analyze streamlines society's dependency on the Internet.

When you think about it, the Internet already killed the need for storing or seeking out information long ago. It's all there and it's organized and easy. Funny really, because Google's search engine is probably the biggest contributor to that. Bing and Yahoo can try to nudge in, but Google is truly hub of the entire Internet at this point and there's statistics to prove it. What's your first instinct when you come across something you don't know? Google it. No one even uses web addresses anymore, we just Google the page we want and we usually find it on the first page. That's what Google Glass is at it's core. Google eyes. With the entirety of the Internet now living within our very eyes, seeing what we see and melding with our reality we are now living, breathing super-computers. Welcome to the next evolution of humanity. Just don't drop your Google Glasses, kids of the future. Otherwise you'll be facing the famous conundrum faced by Velma in Scooby Doo-- only with a depressing twist.

"Help, somebody! I've dropped my glasses! I can't think without my glasses."

"Glass, what street do I live on again?"

If the need for learning has been already killed by the Google search, Google Glass is gross overkill.  One of Google's promotional vids featured a man learning how to play a song on the Ukele over the course of the day to impress his girlfriend. Kinda devalues the accomplishment, don't you think? If all of humanity are suddenly can be geniuses with the aid of Google Glass, what does even mean to be smart anymore? Suddenly, the cool new gadget has turned into a disturbing degradation to the human mind itself. Ironic, isn't it? That something could be so helpful that it actually becomes a hindrance? Google Glass stands to spoil the humanity like a overly-supportive, doting parent, and once the tech becomes mainstream you might find yourself at an extreme disadvantage by not owning it.

This blog entry is nearing its end, but my analysis of the ethical debate at play here is not. I mentioned that I had two moral objections with Google Glass. I shall be posting another entry that explores that end shortly. Until then, savor the simple snags in your daily routine, as in a decade, we'll all forget what it was like to see the world with wonder, a realm ripe with the unknown. They call this the information age, but the next age will look back on that title and laugh.

Indeed... Google Glass is the future-- and the future is kinda freaky.

- B