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How Soon Before We're Dependent on Google Glass?

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Google Glass, the head-mounted, voice-operated smartphone headset, will likely prove revolutionary for telecommunications and mobile computing. It may even be the most significant development in mobile technology since the smartphone. It has not officially been released yet and it has already sparked interest among consumers, pundits, and analysts.

Not only will consumers have a customizable supercomputer which can be easily navigated in the palms of their hands, Google Glass will provide the opportunity to integrate the user directly with the smartphone. Sounds indicate incoming messages, which users will be able to access via voice command or touchpad.

A parody on YouTube shows two people out on a date. While the two are speaking, the male is continually distracted by various features of the Glass. He looks up her Facebook profile in an attempt to strike up a conversation, and at other times takes pictures of her. He uses voice commands, however, so the situation becomes more than a little awkward.

Yet future iterations of Glass may not even require voice commands or touch for these features to be used. Even if Google developers are not the ones who develop this feature, computer hackers will find some way to do it. Already, there are devices that can serve these functions, like the one used by Stephen Hawking. It is not unfathomable that Glass will be modded in some way not requiring voice commands, especially given that third-party apps have already been developed for Glass.

One pundit, as she played around with her Glass, accidentally started recording and her colleague was able to access this information:

I was shocked. In my mind, I never gave Glass my blessing to record and here was something personal -- my life -- being projected in front of someone else's eyes. Add to that the fact that Google Glass is integrated with online services such as Google+, Twitter and others, so at the touch of a button, my colleague could have shared the video with anyone he pleased.

Before allowing Glass for use in Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) should undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the product. It was due to such an evaluation that Facebook agreed to beef up its privacy measures to be compliant with Canadian law. The Law School Admissions Council, which administers the LSAT, was also required by the privacy commissioner to cease collecting fingerprints of Canadian test-takers. Privacy regulations and the OPC can and do make a difference. Very recently, the Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, penned an open letter signed by 36 privacy officials worldwide urging Google "to take part in a real dialogue" about Glass. A comprehensive evaluation would reduce the reliance on information provided by Google, which Stoddart notes is currently the case:

To date, what information we have about Google Glass, how it operates, how it could be used, and how Google might make use of the data collected via Glass largely comes from media reports, which contain a great deal of speculation, as well as Google's own publicizing of the device.

Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, two psychology professors, argue in the New York Times that Google Glass may interfere with cognitive functioning. This possibility is not altogether surprising. The telephone, the computer, the Internet, the cell phone, and the smartphone have all changed the way we communicate and access information. The smartphone arguably combined the processing and information gathering power of the computer with the instant communication of the cell phone and Internet, providing an immensely powerful tool.

Simons and Chabris also note that Glass can "seem like an ideal solution" to the problem of being able to interact with a smartphone while remaining attentive to the world around us. There is, however, a flaw in this reasoning:

Yet experiments that we and others have conducted showed that people often fail to notice something as obvious as a person in a gorilla suit in situations where they are devoting attention to something else. Researchers using eye-tracking devices found that people can miss the gorilla even when they look right at it. This phenomenon of "inattentional blindness" shows that what we see depends not just on where we look but also on how we focus our attention.

They further note that both the eyes and the mind are required for perception. This categorization is spot-on. Previous research has confirmed that mental images can influence the way we see things. A recent study has found that using hands-free devices while driving is no safer than physically handling a phone. Ironically, Sergey Brin noted that safety was one of the motivations for designing Glass. Yet dashboard technology with speech-to-text systems require greater concentration for drivers, leading them to develop tunnel vision: looking straight ahead, they are nonetheless unable to actually see objects like pedestrians and red lights.

Philip Graves in Psychology Today agrees with Simons and Chabris's conclusion that Glass could disrupt cognitive capacity, but thinks that people should not be too concerned because it won't be physically dangerous. Even if this is true, instead of considering danger in a strict physical sense, a wider definition of danger should be considered, including aspects which are not directly visible. Those who find themselves extraordinarily distracted in today's world of instant updates and flashing lights may have their attention deficit amplified by Glass. In a society where relying on the mind for information and computation becomes less important due to the proliferation of mobile computers that can do the work for us, Glass may further exacerbate the dependence on technology to access information.

For those consumers already feeling overwhelmed and distracted by the constant notifications which come with a smartphone, Glass is probably not the best choice. Just like smartphones have embedded themselves into our everyday lives, Glass and similar technologies have the potential to do so. We have arguably developed a dependence towards smartphones. Before consumers become dependent on Glass, they should seriously consider the implications before making their decision.

Originally published in The Prince Arthur Herald.

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