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See change: is Google Glass all it’s cracked up to be?

It was labelled one of 2012’s most important inventions and “the next big thing”. So it was, with great fanfare, that Google sent its first batch of Google Glasses out into the geekdom in March - and was…

Glass has been smashed by the critics … but is that reaction justified? Slinky2000

It was labelled one of 2012’s most important inventions and “the next big thing”.

So it was, with great fanfare, that Google sent its first batch of Google Glasses out into the geekdom in March - and was met with a resounding “meh”.

Critics claim the sleek new device brands the wearer as an irredeemable nerd, will make it too easy to invade people’s privacy, and will be a danger when driving, to mention just a few problems.

But are the critics right, or are they simply reacting with knee-jerk aversion to an emerging paradigm of computing?

A culture of fear (of change)

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It shows us that new technological paradigms have a strongly polarising effect on public opinion - people either love them or hate them, with little common ground.

Sarah G…

But extreme views cannot last for ever.

When the telephone first came into widespread use, people were sure it would be an invasion of their privacy.

When television arrived, conventional wisdom held it would rot people’s brains – indeed some people are still saying it.

But society has a way of integrating new technology through the evolution of acceptable-use protocols, such as places where your phone should stay in your pocket (in change-rooms) and when it is not polite to make and receive phone calls (at funerals).

What makes Google Glass different?

Google Glass is the latest addition to the emerging field of “ubiquitous computing” (UC). Unlike the old paradigm of desktop computing, UC is designed to fit comfortably into people lives.

In the old paradigm, people had to adapt to the demands of the computer. In a world in which user-friendliness is as good as money in the bank for technology developers, it’s not difficult to see that UC has a big future.

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Glass is a personal assistant that connects directly to the Web via WiFi, or tethers to a 3G or 4G smartphone via Bluetooth. Weighing less than a pair of sunglasses it is operated by touch and voice.

You pass a billboard for your favourite band, so you ask Glass to remind you to buy tickets. Arriving at your destination, you query the location of a friend, and you arrange to meet.

This latter aspect is a major source of criticism; the thought of talking to your glasses seems absurd. Yet using your voice is more natural than typing on a QWERTY keyboard, or even using a mouse.

Keeping your private life private

Glass takes photos and videos on command, allowing you to capture high-definition images and audio wherever you go.

This has privacy advocates worried. After all, you could record people without their consent.

Yet smartphones have had the capability to covertly record audio and video for years. At least with Glass, the camera is visible and when recording, a red light is displayed.

The world through Glass.

The presence of a GPS chip in Glass means the location of the wearer could be determined, creating another potential privacy issue.

Again, smartphones are already GPS-enabled. If justified, Australian law enforcement can get a warrant to track a person of interest, but regular people cannot be tracked unless they give their permission for individuals to see their location. The same principle would apply to Glass.

Paying attention

Driving a vehicle while wearing Glass has observers worried – perhaps rightly so. Inattentive driving is a major cause of accidents.

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Heads-up displays are becoming more common in motor vehicles because the driver does not need to look away from the road to get information and operate controls.

Glass works on the same principle. Typing a text message on a smartphone while driving has to be slower and more dangerous than dictating the message while not taking your eyes off the road.

As a general rule, you can always rely on a few individuals to do reprehensible things with technology, but the abuse of something should not in itself prohibit its use.

Google’s vision

Google has a grand vision for the future: the company wants to make all of the world’s information “universally accessible and useful,” and with Google co-founder Sergey Brin as Glass’s most avid champion, it’s not hard to see where all of this is going.

On release later this year, the price is expected to be around USD$750, about the price of a top-end smartphone. But cheaper clones are already appearing.

Motorola, Sony, Epson, Chinese newcomer Baidu and others are developing similar devices that will compete with Glass.

With such an influx, wearable technology will quickly evolve and become comfortably integrated into our lives. Soon we will wonder how we ever lived without it.