We have not fully appreciated what "Google Glass" (Google's term for its new wearable computer) will actually mean for our future. If this product is widely used there will be fundamental and irrevocable changes coming soon to our society — sooner than we think.
I can envision at least 10:
1. A true panopticon
Some would say that Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon" is already upon us. But if you think that closed-circuit TV surveillance implicates privacy issues, consider a system where everyone around you is potentially recording everyone else, all the time. And not just recording, but instantly uploading their experiences online for potential viewing worldwide.
2. Transformation of advertising and commerce
If someone can access information about a real-world object instantly by merely looking at it in front of them, consider what the advertising industry could do with this product. The implications for online retailers, as well as brick-and-mortar retailers, are staggering. Imagine walking into a Starbucks and being pinged with pop-ads in real-time, just like visiting a website.
3. Personal safety issues
Safety concerns are already being voiced over Google Glass. If we thought texting and driving was bad, consider the possibility of an overlay of information which would be constantly available in our field of vision while driving, walking, running, or even navigating any real-world environment. The results could be disastrous, and strict safeguards should be built in or at least acknowledged.
4. Effects on law enforcement and terrorism
As we saw following the Boston bombing, the case was broken wide open due to a commercial surveillance video. Imagine if some or all of the crowd had been recording their experiences via Google Glass. The use of Google Glass by law enforcement presents even greater possibilities for coordinating special response teams, communication among law-enforcement agencies, monitoring, command and control, and documenting illegal activities. Of course, terrorists and others could use the technology as well in their own nefarious ways.
5. Legal challenges
Legal challenges will abound. For example, there are privacy laws in most states which prohibit the recording of conversations without the consent of all participants. If everyone has Google Glass, will those laws be amended, made instantly obsolete, be routinely violated? Other potential legal challenges include equal protection, First Amendment rights, and due process. A bar in Seattle, for example, has already banned Google Glass wearers from its establishment. Is this constitutionally permissible, or a violation of the wearers' free speech rights or the right to travel? On a more sinister note, what will it mean for a corporation, Google, to become the mediator of all experience? Imagine not just the Google search engine defining what exists in cyberspace, but Google glasses defining what exists for the wearer in the real world. Are we ready for this?
6. Working online and speech recognition
Most professionals currently go to an office and bang out reports, memoranda, or emails on a keyboard day in and day out. Imagine having work done on a virtual screen anywhere, and writing by voice command. Admittedly, the brick-and-mortar working world has been slow to allow employees the independence such a new tool would allow. If used well, it could revolutionize the way we work.
7. The transformation of education
Traditional education today is (in most places) very outdated. The concept of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher hasn’t changed in a couple of millennia, although new online courses, massive open online courses (MOOCs), may be coming soon to a computer near you. Imagine how education will be transformed when information can be projected immediately into our field of vision whenever and wherever we want it. We all will have the potential to be "home schooled" anywhere, all the time.
8. News gathering and reporting
News-gathering has already been transformed by "i-reporters" and social media. This is a further evolution building upon those advances, which reporters (well, really, all of us) will use to “capture” news events. The possibilities for journalism and real-time reporting, not to mention the danger and confusion of information overload, will be endless.
9. Effects on Leisure and entertainment
There is no question that people find out about the world through social media. They search for and find meaning, make new connections, and even find love through current technologies. The many advances that Google Glass has in store can (and will) be used by Facebook and all the other online resources already out there that are geared to searching for and maintaining connections. Gaming and entertainment will also be similarly transformed.
10. The singularity is (almost) here
Ray Kurzweil, Google’s current engineering director, has written extensively about the “singularity,” the point where mankind and computers merge. Although Google Glass is not the singularity, it really does bring us closer to that (fateful, terrifying, dreaded, utopian, pick an adjective) day. I do not mean to be overly optimistic in thinking about the potential of Google Glass. It will have positive benefits and negative consequences, as with all new technologies. But the cumulative effects, both good and bad, will be transformative.