Remember Google glasses? Better yet, remember glassholes? It all came and went in just a flash as society reacted to nerds wearing pretentious and creepily intrusive face gear. Well beware, they are back and with a vengeance.
It seemed so cool and with so much promise – wearable computing that would augment your world. It was as if they almost gave you super powers. Unfortunately, Google seems to have forgotten Eric Schmidt’s (former CEO) quote that the company’s policy was to step right up to the “creepy line” but not step over it. But, step over they did and pretty spectacularly. The visceral reaction led to bans in public places and confrontations on the street.
But, the glasses never really went away. They just moved to a very low profile and working in selected applications. Lessons learned have led to new developments by others resulting in face gear you would never suspect are computers with cameras and dramatically upping the power of the surveillance state.
First the good news, Google glasses actually can be put to good use supplementing factory workers and even physicians in carrying out their tasks. The second iteration is now known as the Enterprise Edition (EE) and it’s finding a home at companies like Boeing, GE and DHL. Feedback has been positive with the EE providing instant access to assistive information thereby enhancing workflow and productivity.
Likewise, these new Google glasses are finding a home in healthcare. Augmedix, a new startup, enables doctors, wearing the glasses, to see patients and have all their verbal notes transcribed into medical records. The technology has reduced the amount of time clinicians spend on administrative work from 33 percent of their day to less than 10 percent.
Now for the bad news, Intel has been developing its own “glasses” called Vaunt and recently held a coming out party. There is none of the Google glasses nerdiness that crept people out. In fact, they look just like regular glasses and convey the information you want directly on to your retina with a very low power laser.
At its core, Vaunt is simply a system for displaying a small heads-up style display in your peripheral vision. It can show you simple messages like directions or notifications. It works over Bluetooth with either an Android phone or an iPhone much in the same way your smartwatch does, taking commands from an app that runs in the background to control it. There is no camera in it yet, but there are plans to incorporate a microphone. Intel is releasing it to a limited set of developers so we won’t see it available commercially for a little while, but it’s coming.
You’re probably thinking this is not so bad. Let’s hop over to China where The Chinese government is equipping its police with real-time facial-recognition sunglasses to instantly locate criminals in crowds. The glasses are capable of recognizing one specific face surrounded by up to 10,000 others in 100 milliseconds, and were successfully trialed by authorities at Zhengzhou East railway station, in Henan province, over the Chinese New Year travel period to prevent security risks, hunt down fugitives and spot fake IDs.
Back here in the U.S. there are no plans to equip our police with these kinds of glasses but our society is increasingly comfortable with being watched. We are demanding that all law enforcement officers wear body cams. Facial recognition software is increasingly used in municipal and other security camera systems. Will we someday all wear smart glasses to assist us in our daily tasks? Will we also use them to watch the watchers as we do now with cell phones revealing police excesses?
Is it still too geeky or nerdy for you? How about when they put all of it in a contact lens? They are working on it.