Google Glass and the Future

I just read a Forbes article about Glass, talking about the split between those who are “sure that it is the future of technology, and others who think society will push back against the technology.”

I don’t see this as a dichotomy (and, to be fair, I’m not sure that the author does either). I expect to see both, and I’d like to think a bit more about what these two apparently opposing sides mean.

Push back is inevitable. I hope there’s a significant push back, and that it has some results. Not because I’m a Glass naysayer, but because we, as technology users, are abused so often, and push back so weakly, that it’s not funny. Facebook does something outrageous; a few technorati whine; they add option 1023 to their current highly intertwined 1022 privacy options that have been designed so they can’t be understood or used effectively; and sooner or later, it all dies down. A hundred fifty users have left Facebook, and half a million more have joined. When Apple puts another brick in their walled garden, a few dozen users (myself included) bitch and moan, but does anyone leave? Personally, I’m tired of getting warnings whenever I install software that doesn’t come from the Apple Store (I’ve used the Store exactly twice), and I absolutely expect that a not-too-distant version of OS X won’t allow me to install software from “untrusted” sources, including software I’ve written. Will there be push back? Probably. Will it be effective? I don’t know; if things go as they are now, I doubt it.

There will be push back against Glass; and that’s a good thing. I think Google, of all the companies out there, is most likely to listen and respond positively. I say that partly because of efforts like the Data Liberation Front, and partly because Eric Schmidt has acknowledged that he finds many aspects of Glass creepy. But going beyond Glass: As a community of users, we need to empower ourselves to push back. We need to be able to push back effectively against Google, but more so against Apple, Facebook, and many other abusers of our data, rather than passively accept the latest intrusion as an inevitability. If Glass does nothing more than teach users that they can push back, and teach large corporations how to respond constructively, it will have accomplished much.

Is Glass the future? Yes; at least, something like Glass is part of the future. As a species, we’re not very good at putting our inventions back into the box. About three years ago, there was a big uptick in interest in augmented reality. You probably remember: Wikitude, Layar, and the rest. You installed those apps on your phone. They’re still there. You never use them (at least, I don’t). The problem with consumer-grade AR up until now has been that it was sort of awkward walking around looking at things through your phone’s screen. (Commercial AR–heads-up displays and the like–is a completely different ball game.) Glass is the first attempt at broadly useful platform for consumer AR; it’s a game changer.

Could Glass fail? Sure; I know more failed startups than I can count where the engineers did something really cool, and when they released it, the public said “what is that, and why do you think we’d want it?” Google certainly isn’t immune from that disease, which is endemic to an engineering-driven culture; just think back to Wave. I won’t deny that Google might shelve Glass if they consider unproductive, as they’ve shelved many popular applications. But I believe that Google is playing long-ball here, and thinking far beyond 2014 or 2015. In a conversation about Bitcoin last week, I said that I doubt it will be around in 20 years. But I’m certain we will have some kind of distributed digital currency, and that currency will probably look a lot like Bitcoin. Glass is the same. I have no doubt that something like Glass is part of our future. It’s a first, tentative, and very necessary step into a new generation of user interfaces, a new way of interacting with computing systems and integrating them into our world. We probably won’t wear devices around on our glasses; it may well be surgically implanted. But the future doesn’t happen if you only talk about hypothetical possibilities. Building the future requires concrete innovation, building inconvenient and “creepy” devices that nevertheless point to the next step. And it requires people pushing back against that innovation, to help developers figure out what they really need to build.

Glass will be part of our future, though probably not in its current form. And push back from users will play an essential role in defining the form it will eventually take.

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  • MarkCuban24

    Great piece here. I like the idea that push back and the welcoming of the tech will happen concurrently. The crazy thing is that I can’t even find many startups that are focusing on wearable technologies like Google Glass in terms of 3rd party app development. The only one that I could find was http://www.dsky9.com where they have some prototypes and a free GlassFAQ. That’s where I got my PSD templates for rapid prototyping some of the early apps that I am coding for the Glass Platform. I just figured that I would pass it along if any other devs are looking for a bunch of good info indexed in one spot.

  • Evan

    Intriguing technology by a
    hugely influential company but really just the tip of the iceberg of what’s
    going on in this exciting space. If you’re interested, check out the
    Moverio wearable display glasses from Epson: http://bit.ly/11H7Gqc Developed by the world’s top projector company,
    Moverio features micro-projection technology in the headset for incredible 3D
    and augmented reality applications. And if you’re a university student,
    make sure you enter the Moverio/IEEE contest for a chance to win an $8,000
    scholarship or other prizes for your great app idea: http://bit.ly/XBjm0a

  • David Haddad

    Dear author, this was an intelligent and thoughtful tech article free of hyperbole. In the future please issue some type of a warning when you’re going to do that, as a regular reader of tech articles I need to be prepared so the shock of a hyperbole free article isn’t too much for my system to handle.

  • http://twitter.com/wikitude Wikitude

    Great food for thought Mike. Over the past four years, we’ve grown from a points-of-interest app to an augmented reality platform that includes image recognition and 3D modeling capabilities – all tools that when combined with wearable displays, will revolutionize the way we see things. We’re truly excited about this coming “next wave” of technology and are prepared to be powering it. We’ve recently penned a few thoughts outlining our progress and preparations at http://bit.ly/18ivuCV .