The launch of Google Glass, though initially celebrated by the hardcore nerd crowd, was generally greeted with derision, scorn and outright hostility in some cases. After a few short months of trying to generate buzz in a largely disinterested consumer market, Google packed up its toys and went back to the drawing board. At the time, the marketing campaign was somewhat tone-deaf to the general public’s growing privacy concerns and there really weren’t many practical applications that weren’t being done better and much less conspicuously on a smartphone or tablet. As of June this year, Google has refocused their efforts on wearable technology with a new team called Project Aura, and have been quietly shopping the next generation of Glass to tech-dependent industries like energy, manufacturing and healthcare.
Like a phoenix from the ashes!
One project that has caught some media attention is a clinical trial run by Stanford to test whether or not Google Glass could provide help to autistic children. Researchers have developed software that can identify basic human emotions when a Glass wearer looks at another person’s face, a social skill that is signficantly underdeveloped or absent in those affected by autism. One component of the program is a simple game in which the wearer is directed to find someone displaying a specific emotion, for example, someone who looks “happy,” and if the child “sees” someone who has a smile on their face, they receive points. The researchers hope that by gamifying the experience and reinforcing learning with instantaneous feedback, autistic children can develop skills that will assist them with interpersonal interactions. On top of this, the device can provide constant telemetric data about the wearer themselves, allowing researchers to gather detailed information on things like eye contact and whether or not the child is gradually becoming better at locating particular emotions.
After an early trial with 40 children in a lab environment, Stanford is launching the next phase of its clinical trial by expanding the run to 100 families in their own homes. The portable, connected nature of Google Glass seems particularly well suited for these types of applications, and you can bet we are only seeing the very beginnings of their potential applications in the medical field.
From the moment it was announced, Google Glass has been a favorite target in the growing privacy debate in our always-online and increasingly less-private society. Initially, privacy advocates were worried that Glass wearers could record others without their permission or even awareness. Now, we have to worry about the possibility that the device itself could fall victim to remote access malware, like we recently wrote about here and here. Grad students from Calforina Polytechnic have created a trojan application that purports to be a note-taking application, but instead takes photos without the wearer’s knowledge, recording images every 10 seconds while the device appears to be off, and uploading the photos via Glass’s built-in data connection to a specified destination conceivably anywhere on the internet.
What this means for you:
I’m fairly certain the students in question weren’t the first to dream up this concept, and you can bet that hackers with much more nefarious intent are impatiently waiting for the inevitable arrival and wide-spread use of wearable technology. The current, laser-hot focus of the privacy debate may be on the NSA and Ed Snowden’s disturbing revelations for the moment, but it seems the government isn’t the only one spying on us. In the words of the sage Walt Kelly (of Pogo comic strip fame), “We have met the enemy, and they are us.“
If you’ve spent any time on the internet lately, you likely know that Google’s latest innovation, “Glass” is already in the hands of the media and developers, and will soon be available to the general public. While the concept of wearable computers is not new – the earliest prototypes appeared over 30 years ago – Google’s sleek device has been giving privacy advocates fits since it was announced. Now that Glass is actually appearing “in the wild” as developers and media put the device through its paces, it’s getting pre-emptively banned by businesses, and in some cases, entire states are seeking to regulate its use.
As you might imagine, a device that can (relatively) unobtrusively record video and audio of anything in sight of a Glass wearer, on top of being able to access the vast data stores of Google’s indexed information, has many people understandably concerned. Cameras and recording devices are already banned in places like Las Vegas casinos, and organizations like Caesers Entertainment have extended their policies to explicitly include Google Glass in anticipation of the device’s arrival, as have numerous bars and other businesses, some merely for the publicity, but many for serious privacy concerns for their patrons and businesses.
What this means for you:
Whether or not you ever intend to use Google Glass or something similar, you’ve already been through a social revolution, and you might not have realized it. Remember when cellphones first started appearing with cameras? Remember when laptops first started shipping with webcams built into the lid? Devices that can be used to record others without their knowledge have been used in modern society for decades. Google is not the first to open this particular Pandora’s Box – the cows have long since fled the barn. Google Glass is fairly easy to spot now, but the technology will only improve (read: get smaller and harder to spot) and we will soon have wearable computers that are completely indistinguishable from a regular pair of glasses or sunglasses. We will get to a point that we will not be able to tell whether someone is digitally augmented, and societal conventions will have to adopt to the new standard, just like they have with smartphone cameras.