The introduction of Google Glass this year will mark the beginning of the Age of Augmented Reality, which could disrupt society in profound and unprecedented ways.
When any disruptive technology is introduced, opposition to the perceived evils begins to organize. Usually, though, as the benefits to society and individuals become apparent, people embrace these disruptive technologies, and the arguments against their use fade away.
I think most people who are familiar with Google Glass and augmented reality (AR) technologies in general have at least a gut feeling that Google Glass could have a great impact on personal privacy. I share these feelings, but I think people will embrace AR in general. These devices will become almost an imperative for most workers. Simply put, the benefits of the grandchildren of Google Glass will so far outweigh any loss of privacy that they will be nearly universally adopted.
But the newly formed group StopTheCyborgs.org disagrees. Its stated mission is "to stop a future in which privacy is impossible and corporate control total."
No Google Glass Allowed
Groups hope you'll see these signs near warnings about smoking, dogs, and bare feet.
(Source: Creative Commons: StopTheCyborgs)
StopTheCyborgs and other Neo-Luddite groups make some pretty compelling arguments against AR, including the credible threat that people could be recorded at any time without their knowledge or permission. Nobody could ever consider conversation in the presence of Google Glass wearers completely private. Any entity that could tap into and process all the information from Google Glass on a minute-to-minute basis could track anyone or any conversation anywhere near the wearers. Google Glass may well begin the destruction of our current definitions of privacy.
Google Glass, though, is a baby step on the road to fully mature AR. At its release, due to storage and battery limitations, it probably will be able to broadcast live video for only short periods. Wearers will have to speak out loud to begin recording or take photos. Many functions will require users to touch the stem on the side of their head in an unnatural manner. These activities will give clear clues to people nearby that they may be photographed or recorded.
Future AR gadgets will broadcast live video and audio for as long as a user wishes, conceivably capturing an entire waking day. These devices will eventually shrink into contact lenses and nearly invisible earpieces. They may become so tiny and inexpensive that enthusiasts could wear several video cameras at once, capturing everything they see and everything above, behind, and below them. When everyone (or nearly everyone) is equipped with technology like this, entire populations will be monitoring one another almost continuously. Privacy as we know it will mostly cease.
Why do I think society will adopt mature AR gadgets with an enthusiasm surpassing the way it adopted microwaves, DVD players, smartphones, tablets, and just about every other human invention to date? Why will people willingly give away their privacy?
The Google Glass of 2020 will create a daily diary of everything you experience each day. If someone gives you contact information, it will be easy to access later. When someone sets a meeting for you, that information will be automatically recorded for you. You won't ever forget anything important that you hear. You'll never be at a loss for anyone's name. Similarly, you'll never forget where someone works or what you spoke about the last time you talked. You'll be able to recall instantly every bit of information from every conversation or meeting you ever had with Bob in accounting.
You won't be able to lose anything. Do you constantly forget where you put your glasses, your keys, or your wallet? Google Glass won't.
Likewise, you will no longer get lost. If you want to know how to get anywhere, Google Glass can be your guide. Once enough people are equipped with AR devices, maps will be made for almost every indoor place, as well as every outside place. Friendly, video game-inspired user interfaces will always point you in the right direction.
Being dishonest will become harder. Intelligent algorithms may be able to suss out untruths based on publicly available conversations. If people tell you they'll do something, you'll have a video recording of it. Services like Yelp will give us the data to help us gauge people's veracity.
Similarly, violence may well decrease in a society where people constantly record the actions of those around them. If you get mugged while you're with a group of friends, you'll be able to review multiple video recordings of the event, which will feature the exact time and location and quite possibly the identity of the mugger. This information could all be sent to the police in real-time.
Mature AR will give users virtual and infinitely configurable computer screens to access any information on the Internet at any time. We have something similar now with our smartphones and tablets, but imagine an Iron Man-like UI or turning any big, empty wall into a computer screen. Forget sci-fi holograms or $4,000 TV sets -- you'll get the same and better from your AR rig.
The biggest reason for near universal adoption of AR technology will be the competitive advantage it will provide over those who refuse to take advantage. Workers with mature AR technology will be much more productive, make fewer mistakes, have access to better education, and be more accountable. People with this technology will have the potential to become more intelligent, more cultured, and more relaxed.
The Neo-Luddites will push for regulation and oversight of this new technology. They will do their best to shatter the opportunities for Google Glass, out of genuine concern for citizens' loss of privacy, as well as overly dramatic worries about corporate control. However, unless they can convince every government on the planet to put tight controls on this technology, the Neo-Luddites will simply be handing over a huge competitive advantage to countries that see the benefits and open up the world of opportunities to their citizens and businesses.
— Tad Donaghe is an amateur futurist and a software engineer with more than 16 years of experience.