Tech-Speak: Looking Through The Techno-Glass
When looking around the internet, and at Google Glass’s homepage, it is hard not to feel giddy at the prospect of playing with this new piece of technology. Glass, being one part stylish accessory and another part science fiction reader’s dream/nightmare, feels like something coming to us out of the speculative futures envisioned by the likes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Star Wars trilogies and William Gibson’s “Neuromancer.” It is something for us to be both excited about, and cautious of, when examining new technology’s influence on our society and how it can extend our physical and intellectual ability to interact with the world around us. (Although I –being the quasi-reluctant futurist I am– personally feel as if Glass is something of a stopgap technology. The intermediary step between having to wear an interactive heads up display (I-HUD) and having one injected directly into your optic nerve.)
The Nuts & Bolts of Glass
The tech specks which Google has built into Glass are impressive to say the least, especially so given the relative size of the hardware. Glass boasts a 5 mega pixel camera and the ability to capture film in 720p. The audio, which has been built directly into arms/temples of the glasses makes use of transduction to send sound vibrating through your jaw and skull to create the sound. For those looking for better sound quality, or finding themselves just a little bit weirded out by the idea of having sound pumped through your bones, Google has already released a Glass compatible line of earbuds.
Glass, which runs on Android 4.0.3 or higher, is programmed to receive and interpret both audio and touch input commands, and provided you have a compatible cell phone, it can take the place of a wireless headset. Although it is not mentioned on the company’s site, Glass also seems to have either a physical or digital accelerometer/gyroscope built into the chassis as the operating system is responsive to commands inputted by tilting your head. And for the visually impaired gadget lovers out there, myself included, it is worth knowing that Google has announced that Glass can now be integrated into Google branded prescription frames.
Storage for Glass clocks in at 12 Gigs of Cloud accessible memory in addition to a 16 Gig integrated flash drive. Not surprisingly given its Cloud integration Glass also has built in Wifi and Bluetooth capabilities. As for its battery life, Google claims that Glass should be able to handle at least “one day of typical use,” though reviewers like YouTube’s iJustine and TechRadar’s Matt Swidder have found that for “normal” use (i.e.- without using any power intensive functions like video capture or streaming) Glass’s battery will give you a max of around 5 hours. Rounding out the other peripherals which came to those lucky enough to be selected for the initial phase of the “Glass Explorer Program” include swappable tinted and un-tinted visors, two sizes of swappable nose-pad attachments and a Glass specific Micro USB charger.
Feedback from individual reviewers has, for the most part, been good. Although many writers seem to have missed the shear brilliance of Google’s naming conventions given the proclivity of those who use tech-speak to make use of creative contractions: at which point Google Glass becomes “Gass,” and accessories like Google Earbuds become “Gear Buds…”
Some Thing(s) to Consider
All joking aside, Google’s questionable data sharing track record coupled with the rather invasive nature of Glass’s camera and audio/video inputs has given rise to privacy concerns surrounding the use of the device. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (epic.org) has kept a running list of the many contentious issues plaguing Glass, specifically in relation to it’s “always on” feature. Although Google claims that “it will not be putting any proprietary facial recognition software onto Glass,” that doesn’t necessarily prevent third party companies or government agencies from accessing or buying the rights to the images and other forms of meta-data being uploaded onto Google’s Cloud servers.
Beyond the privacy concerns about Glass there are also quite a few issues yet to be explored surrounding the hardware. These run anywhere from a humorous: “Whoops I didn’t see that low lying branch up and to the right of me…” To the more problematic and possibly upsetting: “No officer I didn’t see the light above and to the right of me nor whatever it was that seems to have dented my bumper…”
And you have to wonder about the reactions of physiotherapists and chiropractors from all over North America when watching videos of the extreme angle at which Glass users have to tilt their heads back in order to engage the picture and video functions. Similarly, it would be interesting to get an Ophthalmologist’s or Transportation Minister’s take on the inherent dangers of having a screen that sits at a fixed point, up and to the right of its user’s right eye, for prolonged periods of time. (Note: Google has acquired a patent to produce a variant of Glass for people who would like to be able to wear the hardware over their left eye, but as of the writing of this article it is unknown whether any of these new left-eye models have been released.)
Glass, Society & Growing Pains
There have been isolated incidents where other people’s reaction to Glass wearers have proven to be troubling as in the case of the New York woman who was allegedly attacked because of concerns that she might be taking unsolicited pictures or video. This anger towards people wearing digital recording devices on their faces is not unique to Glass wearer’s alone. In 2012 a Toronto area man was allegedly attacked at a Paris McDonald’s location for wearing a pair of EyeTap Digital Eye Glasses designed to assist the visual acuity and image processing of people with visual impairments. His alleged attackers claimed to be upset that he might be recording them without their permission. Google has tried to address these fears by building a 10 second maximum video capture length into Glass’s video recording software. So any video being captured by a Glass wearer will be limited to a duration similar to that of someone making use of Vine or other micro video blogging software. Convenient for capturing something that the wearer finds amusing, but not physically capable of taking long duration shots that could be used to snoop or film the entirety of otherwise private conversations.
Ultimately though, when looking beyond the tech specs and the other features of the product, what the current version of Google Glass does, is provide software developers with a platform through which they can sync up various forms of information across the visual, as well as auditory mediums. In the same way that the Smartphone merged the features of the traditional cellphone with those of a computer operating system, Glass integrates the functionality of a hand held device right into your line of sight. Imagine being able to watch your favourite sports team, either on the TV or in person, and have the stats of the player that you are looking at automatically appear in front of your eyes. Imagine being able to look at a map of a city and have the best restauranteurs, theatres and social gathering places pop up in real time as your eyes passed over them. These are but a few of the possible applications that could well be accessible to Google Glass owners in the near future.
I for one am eager to see what comes out of Google’s Glass technology in the coming months, but I also admit to more than a certain degree of wariness concerning some of the unexpected social consequences of having people with video recording devices and digital media displays in both their and my face on a day-to-day basis. In the end though, I think that Google Glass’ future is looking bright and I can’t wait to get my hands on a pair of them once they’ve been released to the general public.