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Oh My Tech!: Google Glass scary window to a new world

Published July 5, 2012 7:46 pm

New augmented reality glasses will be fun, but also pose hazards.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you're annoyed by people who text or talk on the phone instead of paying attention to the world around them, just wait until Google Glass hits the streets.

You may have heard of the new piece of hardware that you wear like glasses that will be coming in 2014. But these aren't an ordinary pair of shades. Google Glass is a wearable computer that has a small viewing screen for the right eye, a video camera, microphone, small speaker, motion sensors and a number of processors. Google Glass is meant to be an instant window to your virtual world. The monitor covers only part of your vision so you can still see the real world in front of you. But while wearing them, you will be able to video conference with others on Google+, read your email on the tiny monitor, get tweets and more.

Some see it as a wave of the future. I see it as a tool for disaster.

Yeah, Google Glass may sound like the epitome of gotta-have electronic wizardry, but do we really need another tech gadget that's going to take even more of our attention away from the real world?

In April, Google released a video that shows the full potential of the Glass project. You put on your glasses in the morning and check the weather and the day's reminders on the small monitor over your eye. While eating breakfast, you get a request on the screen from a friend to meet up. With your voice, you confirm the meet-up at a bookstore. You ask your glasses for a route, which is then displayed on Google Maps. Turn-by-turn navigation tells you where to walk. You get to the bookstore, and your friend shares his current location with you on your glasses. You meet him at a coffee truck just outside the store, where you also share your location with other friends on your social network.

Cool, right?

But what the video doesn't show you is this. You put on your Google glasses in the morning and check the day's reminders, causing you to spill boiling-hot coffee on your hand. While wrapping gauze around your burn, you get a request from a friend to meet at a bookstore. You check on Google Maps for a route, which you take and are struck by a bicyclist.

As people are huddled around you on the street, trying to stop the bleeding from your head, you get up and ask Google Glass for the nearest hospital. Suddenly, your friend messages you that he's at the bookstore. You decide to walk there instead of getting medical attention. At the bookstore, you accidentally walk right into your boss because you failed to see him while reading a message from your friend. Unfortunately, you lied to him earlier in the morning and called in sick. Now out of a job, you finally meet up with your friend, who then confesses that he's been sleeping with your wife. But you don't pay attention because you've been pre-occupied sharing your location with friends on your social network. Oblivious to what your friend just told you, you still share coffee with him, and again spill piping-hot java on your other hand because you were checking your tweets.

That's just one scenario. But Google Glass also raises serious privacy questions. The prototype Google demonstrated had a built-in video recorder. Imagine talking to people with these contraptions, and they're recording you and your conversation without you knowing it. In fact, will a conversation even be possible with someone who has a pair of Google glasses? How will you know they're paying attention to you?

Many people have a hard time concentrating or focusing on the task at hand as it is. Today's technology has already turned us into multitasking drones who have lost all social skills, whether it's the person talking on the phone in front of a grocery clerk or a daughter texting at the dinner table. Google Glass will make all of that worse, further blurring the line between the virtual and the real. Will we soon have to worry if people are using Google glasses while driving? It's all beginning to read like a Ray Bradbury cautionary tale.

In a recent Wired interview with the project's director, Babak Parviz said, "This could be a radically new technology that really enables people to do things that otherwise they couldn't do."

If he means they will either ignore, fail to acknowledge or unknowingly run over others, we're in for a lot of trouble.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.

vince@sltrib.com

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