Through a (Google) Glass, Darkly?

by Thomas Knapp
Through a (Google) Glass, Darkly?

Let me throw out two predictions so obvious that I shouldn’t even have to commit them to print:

1) Within days, if not hours, of Google Glass‘s release to the general public, hackers will “jailbreak” the hardware, allowing it to run any “Glassware” users desire and can create or find online; and

2) An independent developer community will emerge to create those applications , whether Google wants them to or not.

As a matter of fact, I’ll double down and assert that both of these predictions are already in the process of coming true, even while Glass is in its “Explorer Program” phase, and that Google’s announcements this week that it won’t allow facial recognition apps or “adult” fare for Glass will only add fuel to the fire.

Porn, of course, is any device’s “killer app.” Enough people want it, and want it badly enough, that they’ll either have it from their devices or get OTHER devices to have it from. Above and beyond the usual — pedestrian porting of dirty pictures to Glass format, just like they were ported from print magazine to computer monitor way back when — I can’t imagine that more than a year will go by before there’s Glassware to predictively, imaginatively, visually undress whomever the user happens to be looking at on the street, on the dance floor, etc.

We don’t have to like it. It’s going to happen whether we like it or not, and whether Google likes it or not.

Similarly, facial recognition is the Glass-specific “killer app.” It’s the one thing that the device is so obviously useful for and that people will so obviously want to use it for that there’s just not going to be any stopping it.

The most benign and universal applications are obvious:

You meet someone, you get his or her name, you say “OK, Glass, this is John Doe.” You’ll never have to worry about forgetting a name again.

You want to introduce two people, but can’t be present. “OK, Glass, send John Doe’s facial profile to Joe Smith, with a message to meet him in the food court at noon.”

And so on, and so forth.

Are there more sinister uses for facial recognition? Of course there are. But facial recognition is coming.

Again: We don’t have to like it. It’s coming whether we like it or not, and whether Google likes it or not.

If by some chance Google is able to effectively darken Glass such that it can’t fulfill users’ desire for porn and facial recognition, then something else will come along with clearer vision. You’ll be able to pick up a Google Glass unit at Dollar Tree, like one of those little headphone-radio sets that people buy because they’re going to the beach and don’t want to risk getting sand in their REAL personal stereos.

The press is filled with nods — from Google itself, and from opponents of facial recognition tech — to something called “privacy.”

But privacy, as David Brin has been pointing out for years, just ain’t what it used to be. Absent complete technological collapse, it’s never going to be what it used to be again. If you show yourself in public, the assistive tech to identify you is going to be available. Period. And soon.

Instead of obsessing over the steady advancement of technology and attempting to thwart its potential at the development level, we should direct our efforts toward abolishing institutions which necessarily and murderously abuse that potential.

Technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, and more and more useful.

Political government is getting more and more expensive and less and less tolerable.

One of the two needs to go. And it’s pretty clear which one.

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4 responses to “Through a (Google) Glass, Darkly?

  1. –if the good guy came into a room looking to the right he was sure to be coshed by someone hiding stage left.

  2. Your comments system has a new trick–now it only destroys most of my comment and leaves just enough to make me look like a nut. Is this some kind of Zen thing on your part Sean?.

    • No, and please don’t ask me anything about, or hold me responsible for, the technical workings of this Blog. It’s all far beyond my understanding.

      This being said, if you can’t send your comment without having it garbled, send it to me, and I’ll post it for you. Before then, though, do have another go. Try using a different browser.

  3. I was making a serious point and a light-hearted one. I forget the serious point. So here is the other one.

    Google Glass seems to be fiction come true. Back in 1972 there was a short-lived US TV show called “Probe”. It featured a small team of private agents who had a medallion (it was the 70s) with a very sophisticated, small, flat camera/microphone/transmitter on it. They were thus in constant connection with their base which was a Star Trek like control room full of old reel to reel mainframes and run by Burgess Meredith and lots of attractive women wearing white lab coats to prove they were scientists. This set-up meant that whenever, in their glamorous world, the agents met someone new, they were instantly supplied with useful biographic data (“She is the beautiful daughter of multimillionaire Sir…./He is an enforcer for the Torelli mob…etc). Also the microphone was sensitive enough to hear conversations thro’ walls and foes creeping up behind the hero. The camera also saw in infra-red and could see in the dark and detect enemies waiting behind a door to club the good guy( this was a big problem for 60/70s heros. If they entered a shot looking right they were sure to be coshed by an unseen bad guy from stage left).
    With this Glass gadget we may all have such powers at our disposal.