Through a (Google) Glass, Darkly?Thomas L. Knapp
Jun. 05, 2013
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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.