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Google Glass and wearable tech: positive technology, or the first step towards a dystopian future?

Google Glass and the wearable tech industry is still in its infancy, but where are we heading? Towards a positive future, or a dystopian one?
May 23, 2013
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The Google Glass kiosk at I/O 2013

There are quite a few different opinions out there when it comes to wearable tech. Some say it is a fad. Others that it is the future, and that devices like Google Glass will lead to a revolution. Then there is talk of privacy concerns, social concerns and even the belief that development of wearable technology is the first step towards a dystopian future where “the man” is always watching.

Short of inventing a time machine, we can’t say for sure how wearable tech will affect our lives in the years to come. But we can take a look at a few potential scenarios or situations where wearable tech could make life better, or in some cases worse.

A world with no privacy

Organizations like “Stop the Cyborgs” feel that Google Glass and other wearable tech could soon lead to major privacy concerns throughout the globe. Even the United States senate has some potential worries. There are clearly folks that don’t like the idea of tech that is always on, always watching and could even be recording your every move.

If Google Glass leads the way for other smart wearable devices that allow free and easy recording no matter where you are, you could be left with something that looks a great deal like a sci-fi movie’s vision of a dystopian future.

Leaving your house would mean that you would surrender all privacy (which arguably is the case even today), as everyone could be watching you and reporting any action you do, with video footage to prove it.

It also means that you as a wearable-tech user could be subject to tracking from companies, the government and any would-be super-hacker (which is also arguably the same case today). That means not just what you look up with wearable tech, but also possibly what you see, what you’re doing and where you are currently located at.

But is this scenario really likely? Yes and no. I’d love to say “Absolutely not!” – but it’s more complicated than that. It would really depend on the country and the people in it.

I have no doubt that many governments would take advantage of this kind of technology to “protect” everyday citizens. It really wouldn’t be the tech at fault here, though.

Wearable technology could certainly be an enabler of privacy invasion, but it isn’t the real cause of privacy concerns. Governments, pervs, businesses and stalkers already use technology and general information to exploit us for their own ends.

If we want to solve privacy concerns for future wearable tech, it’s about making changes and setting real boundaries in the present.

Google Smartwatch 3D render concept

Making the world a safer place

So the invasion of privacy is a possible concern, but there are also many great future uses for wearable technology that could truly make our lives better, or even safer.

Last month we reported on how the New York City police department was utilizing Android phones for quickly accessing information about the area around them, in ways that are much more efficient than on-board car computers. Not everyone likes the idea of the police having easy access to information about warrants, building crime stats and other data, but honestly I feel that there is a lot of potential for crime reduction that outweighs the downsides.

Building on that concept, imagine that police officers could take the same information and have it within their Google Glass or other wearable device. No need to fumble with a phone to find what they need.

A perp starts running? The police could use GPS information to help them figure out the best ways to chase after them, avoiding dead ends and other obstacles along the way.

Then again, maybe giving police officers this kind of tech is almost as scary as helpful.

What about for emergency response? Recently a video from Playground Labs showed a few ideas for Google Glass, one of them included how in the future, wearable devices could be used for placing 911 calls and receiving “in-your-eye” help on what to do in an emergency situation, like performing CPR, etc.

Beyond that, I could also see paramedics using the tech. Imagine the emergency responder streaming live video to the ER, allowing them to see what is going on and giving them time to prepare for what might need to be done when the patient arrives. For surgeries, there are also teaching applications, like a surgeon streaming live footage of a surgery (with permission of course) to students. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

How wearable tech could affect the consumer directly

So Google Glass opens the door to possible privacy invasion, but it also opens the door to more effective crime prevention and emergency response.

What about us as consumers, how else can we benefit on a day-to-day basis? Immediate first-gen wearable tech like Google Glass and smartwatches seem focused on giving us access to basically the same information as we have right now, just quicker.

Our own Nate Swanner recently had the opportunity to use the device for an evening. His takeaway?

“I got exactly what I expected with Glass, really. It’s fun, and exciting, but doesn’t fit into my lifestyle. What Glass offers and what I’d like to see from it are just too disparate right now.”

Right now, Glass is about It’s about checking the net, keeping up with your social network, getting quick directions and the like. In current form, it’s not for everybody.

Long-term? Google Glass developers are just now playing around and learning what they can do with the 1st-generation Google Glass. Ten years from now, their ideas will be more developed, and the original Google Glass hardware will look like a Fisher-Price toy compared to what will then be possible.

The future for wearable tech is in creating augmented reality that enhances payment options, conversations and everyday life – without getting in the way.

Imagine visiting a landmark and your wearable watch/glasses/contacts automatically recognize the location and provide you with virtual tour guide information. For businesses, there could also be paid content, where you can learn more about buildings and locations simply by paying a small fee.

The holy grail of wearable computing is about moving beyond just providing quick access to the web: its about overlaying connected data over everything we do.

Social concerns with wearable glass

Right now, we already have seen a major change in the way young people use technology, even when compared to just 5 or 10 years prior. Many of us are constantly locked to our phones or tablets. From checking messages every few minutes, to looking up stuff on the net just about everywhere, bathroom included.

When the computer is with you 24/7, what kind of impact will it have? It will certainly be different. Worse? That’s probably a matter of opinion. It will mean that people might be even further enslaved by technology than ever before, but ultimately even that is not the tech’s fault.

I love my phone, my tablet and my PC. I’m a nerd all the way, and proud. I am clearly on-the-grid and loving it. That said, there are times when I break free.

Camping, fishing, hell just an evening with the family without worrying about what’s going on over at Google+ or Twitter. I make the choice to power off my devices and take a few moments to enjoy life unleashed from the world of modern communication. I use tech to enhance my life, not to take it over.

I’m biased towards wearable tech, I’ll admit it. But I do understand that there are real concerns around wearable and augmented technology. The point is that these technologies don’t have to control us or throw us into a Big Brother dystopian world.

Prevention is simple. We need to create clear etiquette for the use of these devices, and hold others accountable for their actions while using wearable technology.

By understanding how the tech should be used, we prevent the abuse of it, as seen in this amazing short-film:

What do you think of wearable technology like Google Glass, any great possible uses for the tech that I didn’t mention? Will it change the world for the better, or for the worst?