Pointless Google Glass has already crippled itself with worry
17th Sep 2013 | 11:39
Nerfed by politics and worry, it will never flourish
Revolutionary technology almost always comes at a cost - the internet brought a new and horrible way for nastiness to find an audience, splitting the atom brought nuclear weapons and email introduced us to the world of spam.
But, for me, it's important to point out that every one of these revolutionary technologies was introduced without the inventor calling in focus groups to make sure that nobody was going to be upset by the invention.
Truly revolutionary ideas always bring the full gamut of humanity - every silver lining might well have a cloud, but nobody should suggest that this negates the need for precious metal.
Which brings me to Google Glass: the prospect of an always-on computer that can see what you can see, hear what you can hear and therefore supply contextual data is a fascinating one.
It's also fundamentally disturbing when you think too long about the repercussions.
An always-recording device is the ultimate Big Brother tool - combine that with nascent tech like facial recognition, machine translation and algorithms that try to guess what we want and it runs the risk of becoming an Orwellian nightmare.
I understand the importance of protecting our privacy but I also think that by attempting to assuage our fears at this early stage, Google Glass has rendered itself pointless.
Searching for a point
If Google's creators had worried too much about the repercussions of their search engine back in the '90s - allowing people to find virtually anything good or bad - would they ever have got the backing to revolutionise our internet lives?
If they had worried about suicide and anorexia sites, pornography, illegal downloading and instructions on how to carry out mischief, would they have ever got to the stage that they are now?
You can apply this to so many of the big steps in technology: the written word was potentially deadly to authority spreading ideas to the populace, the printing press, cinema and television brought with them massive negatives as well as huge positives.
Not to underestimate the importance of these things, but surely the mechanisms to tame the Wild West arrived after the goldrush. You don't hire the sheriff before you find the mine and incorporate the town.
I'll give some specific examples of how Google Glass is compromising its potential.
Firstly, it is not an always on device. In fact, it's barely ever on, requiring a tap of the frame to wake it.
And that means that this is not a perpetual recording device, a transcriber or - let's be honest - a particularly contextual device.
Instead we have the equivalent of a mobile phone stuck to our heads - at the moment, it requires as much user input as any other device. It's not far enough away from a device in the hand to make any sense at all.
A device that can recognise people and supply important information ('It's their birthday today' or 'his son's name is Kevin' etc) is a step forward.
But if I have to touch the fram, or fiddle with it, or talk to it to get this information, it would have been more subtle for me to fake receiving a text to check their Facebook page.
I can see the wisdom of it being obvious when the device is recording, but having it off for 90% of the time won't help me see a transcription of that amazing interview I did, or search for that conversation during which my wife actually did tell me that I should ring the dentist.
I can see the usefulness of being able to Google search my life or look at a video of a thing that has already happened before I could ever press record.
But Google Glass in its current incarnation? I just don't see the point.
I'd like to understand just how powerful Google Glass can be before the controls are put in place that limit its use and ability.
It would be crazy for me to advocate people creating tech without thinking about the repercussions - there's a reason father of the Atomic bomb Oppenheimer lamented, 'Now I am become Death' - but to cut your invention off at the knees for fear of offence seems crazy.
What will stop Google Glass flourishing isn't privacy issues or the hardware - it's the fear of upsetting our sensibilities that renders it pointless.