Will Google Glass turn us into cyborgs?
By the end of 2013, you could be peering through a whole new window to the world just by uttering those words.
That's the voice command for the new augmented-reality headset being created by Google that will turn ordinary humans into cyborgs. The Mountain View, Calif., search-engine company announced last week that the new headset which looks like stylish glasses with a protruding clear plastic block for a viewing screen will be released before the end of the year, priced under $1,500.
The company also released new information on what the electronic glasses will do, namely, to keep users constantly connected with friends, family and the globe without ever having to look down at a smartphone.
Even with other desirable high-tech devices coming out around the holidays, including the new PlayStation 4 and the expected release of the next Xbox game console, gadget hounds will likely be pining for the futuristic hardware of Google Glass.
Here's a breakdown of what Google Glass is and what it will mean for communication:
Hardly glasses • Imagine a pair of ordinary glasses. Now, take out the lenses and cut away the bottom half of each frame. Add a powerful, miniaturized processor on one of the earpieces and a tiny clear viewing block the width of a pencil just above the right eye and you get a sense of what Google Glass looks like.
The right earpiece, which will be wider than the left, also acts as a touchpad. Slide your finger up and down the piece or from the top to the bottom to scroll through text in your eyepiece. To select something on the screen, just tap the earpiece.
There is also a tiny speaker, a microphone, motion sensors for commands based on head movement, and a camera that's pointed forward.
In an interview with technology blog, The Verge, Google product director Steve Lee hopes eyeglasses designers such as Ray Ban can partner with Google to design better-looking models.
Functions • Google Glass is supposed to have many of the same basic functions of a smartphone.
First, you can send texts and emails through voice command and read them in the small screen. You can receive turn-by-turn voice directions through Google Maps and its built-in GPS receiver. There is a virtual assistant that can provide information on the viewscreen by just asking it a question (i.e. "How tall is the Brooklyn Bridge?"). The camera can take point-of-view (POV) videos and pictures. With the camera, you also can participate in a Google Hangout (Google's video conferencing service) where you can see your friends and they can see your POV.
The glasses will have a built-in Wi-Fi adapter to receive data through a Wi-Fi hotspot. But if you're away from a Wi-Fi network, it can connect to a 3G or 4G data connection via your smartphone and Bluetooth.
Pros • The point of Google Glass is to bring as Lee told The Verge your information "closer to your senses" instead of always having to peer down at your smartphone.
So, in essence, the information is always in front of you. Need directions? No need to pull out your phone, tap on the Google Maps app and type in the address. Just ask Google Glass the directions to your destination and the information appears before your eye. And the directions remain in front of you as you make turns.
But perhaps the biggest and the most novel use for Google Glass will be its ability to record video at any moment.
Just say, "OK glass, record video," and it captures high-quality video. This is a feature that's going to be especially invaluable if you're having a meeting with your boss or are at the latest Occupy Wall Street protest and things start to get rough with the police. And imagine the POV experiences that will be posted by outdoors enthusiasts who want to give a true sense of "being there" (not to mention the porn applications).
That's the purpose of "wearable computing," the newest buzzwords in the technology sector, referring to mobile devices worn as part of your clothing. The idea is to make information readily available and for your devices to become a part of you.
Cons • Wearable computing and Google Glass will also disrupt normal social conventions.
While Google hopes that Google Glass will stop us from looking at our phones during a conversation or when we're supposed to pay attention to something else, it still will distract us from what we should be focusing on. Rather than looking down, we'll just be looking slightly above and to the right to peer into the Google Glass viewscreen.
Either way, it will shift our attention away from what's important, whether it's keeping an eye on the road while we're driving or walking, or listening intently to the person in front of us during a conversation.
Then there is the "dork factor." As stylish as Google has attempted to make its headset, it still will make the user feel awkward wearing them in public (imagine business people with those annoying Bluetooth headsets on, only worse). The only time it might be considered cool to wear Google Glass is in the beginning until the novelty wears off. The first version will not work with regular prescription glasses, so about half of the population will not be able to use them without contact lenses.
Finally, there's the question of privacy or the lack of privacy.
Encounter someone wearing Google Glass and you might be asking, "Is that person recording video of me? Will he or she take a picture of me while I'm stuffing a bagel in my mouth and then post it on Facebook minutes later?"
Right now, it is considered rude to start recording someone with a smartphone when you walk up to them. How can that apply to Google Glass if the camera is always pointing forward and ready to shoot? If you own a pair, will it be polite to take them off whenever you approach someone? Or will it be appropriate to ask someone to take their headset off before you start a conversation?
Google's latest device may well mean new rules of social conduct for a new technological age.
Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi