The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally - here’s where the problems really start - you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public - any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway - you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you - and all 49 other passengers - could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
Now, I know the response: “I’m recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn’t bother me, what’s the difference?” Hear me out - I’m not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.
First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video. And if Google Plus doesn’t sound like much, note that Mark Zuckerberg has already pledged that Facebook will develop apps for Glass.
Finally, consider the speech-to-text software that Google already employs, both in its servers and on the Glass devices themselves. Any audio in a video could, technically speaking, be converted to text, tagged to the individual who spoke it, and made fully searchable within Google’s search index.
Now our stage is set: not for what will happen, necessarily, but what I just want to point out couldtechnically happen, by combining tools already available within Google.
Let’s return to the bus ride. It’s not a stretch to imagine that you could immediately be identified by that Google Glass user who gets on the bus and turns the camera toward you. Anything you say within earshot could be recorded, associated with the text, and tagged to your online identity. And stored in Google’s search index. Permanently.
I’m still not done.
The really interesting aspect is that all of the indexing, tagging, and storage could happen without the Google Glass user even requesting it. Any video taken by any Google Glass, anywhere, is likely to be stored on Google servers, where any post-processing (facial recognition, speech-to-text, etc.) could happen at the later request of Google, or any other corporate or governmental body, at any point in the future.
Remember when people were kind of creeped out by that car Google drove around to take pictures of your house? Most people got over it, because they got a nice StreetView feature in Google Maps as a result.
Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device - every single day, everywhere they go - on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google’s cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it.
And that, my friends, is the experience that Google Glass creates. That is the experience we should be thinking about. The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience - it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.
Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud - whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between - will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.
This is the discussion we should have about Google Glass. The tech community, by all rights, should be leading this discussion. Yet most techies today are still chattering about whether they’ll look cool wearing the device.
Oh, and as for that physical design problem. If Google Glass does well enough in its initial launch to survive to subsequent versions, forget Warby Parker. The next company Google will call is Bausch & Lomb. Why wear bulky glasses when the entire device fits into a contact lens? And that, of course, would be the ultimate expression of the Google Glass idea: a digital world that is even more difficult to turn off, once it’s implanted directly into the user’s body. At that point you’ll not even know who might be recording you. There will be no opting out.