All major tech companies are working on computer glasses. None of them really want to come first.
They all remember how Google Glass and the “Glassholes” that wore them in public became the laughingstock of the world. So they waited and bided their time, tweaking their prototypes and occasionally making sure investors knew that, no, they weren’t going to pass up the first potentially iPhone-sized opportunity since the iPhone. .
But now Google itself is taking the next step. And whether you’re dreading the time when Big Tech’s all-seeing eyes reappear on people’s heads or you’re just counting the days until you can own a hands-free computer camera, you should know that we’re on the point of confronting them once again.
Last Tuesday, Google revealed that it would begin public testing of augmented reality glasses equipped with a camera, and the company’s blog post contains many statements designed to assure you that this will no longer be the era of Glassholes. Google says it’s starting with “a few dozen” testers, and that its glasses’ cameras and microphones “do not support photography and videography.” They collect visual data, but Google wants you to imagine use cases like “translate the menu in front of you” – not recording someone in front of you in a bar.
The company’s support page also has a comprehensive list of FAQs such as “What is image data used for?” » ; “How long is it stored? » ; and “How will I know if I am near tested products?” It turns out there’s an LED that lights up if Google decides to save images for analysis, and it promises to delete them 30 days later.
For now, Google says its testers won’t be using them in schools, hospitals, churches, playgrounds, etc.
If you hate that idea, there’s probably nothing I can say to convince you otherwise, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to; I will not pretend to know whether such a gadget should exist in the world. I just think you should realize that if Google’s test doesn’t end in complete disgust, it won’t be long before Apple, Microsoft and others are also throwing their long-awaited glasses into the ring.
And in 2022, I wouldn’t really bet on disgust, mainly because we’ve had a decade of pointing phones at things in public, documenting every element of our lives, preparing ourselves for what’s to come.
Since the day in 2012 a Google parachute team landed on the Moscone Center with the first public prototypes of Google Glass, the use of mobile cameras has exploded. Not only have phone cameras completely destroyed point-and-shoots, they have also changed social norms. In 2012, it was still a bit weird to take a camera out in a bar or restaurant; now that would be weird not to take a selfie with friends or take a few shots of a particularly tasty meal. What about the fear of accidentally capturing a stranger in your photo? It’s such a normal everyday occurrence that Google uses a “magic” background eraser as a selling point for its Pixel phones.
Moreover, mobile cameras don’t just film when someone thinks of taking their smartphone out of their pocket; they fly through the air. Anyone can now buy a standalone camera from Snap for $230 to film public places robotically, and we’ve had almost a decade to get used to the idea that another person’s camera might be staring at you. ‘at the top. The vast majority of the consumer drone revolution has happened after Google Glass — the DJI Phantom was only released in 2013.
Google Glass also predated the widespread adoption of 4G LTE, which brought live streaming and instant video publishing to the masses. This is the reason why you can save the police and maybe hold them accountable. (Remember when Google Glass pundits wrote about the concept of “sousveillance,” a form of reverse surveillance where people use their own cameras to watch watchers? Phones have already taken us halfway there.)
Public spaces are now full of cameras pointed in all directions, and there is very little expectation of privacy outside of your home. The company has also failed to meet many challenges against the proliferation of cameras. And even if the filming was illegal, how would you do the police? It’s not easy to tell if someone is actually recording, checking out TikTok, or even just doing work on the go.
As my former colleague Ellis Hamburger said in 2014, we’re all Glassholes now. And I think that’s only become more true thanks to the pandemic, as even tech-savvy people have started to rely on handhelds for basic necessities like socializing and food. Over the past two years, I’ve seen people who gave up technology for things they could do in person reluctantly turn to Amazon, DoorDash, Facebook, Instacart, and more. And I suspect some of them will be more open-minded about the benefits of technology now.
Even helmets may not quite carry the stigma they have suffered due to the pandemic. VR usage has skyrocketed during the 2020 shutdowns, even though overall sales numbers are still relatively low. The modern rise and fall and the rise of virtual reality is, again, something that happened after Fateful launch of Google Glass in 2012.
The pandemic could also end up resetting some of our social norms like masking, which has the handy side effect of obscuring your identity from cameras while reducing the spread of germs. It’s not too hard to imagine countries that would tolerate citizens wearing a Bane-like mask also condoning other head-worn gadgets. You might remember a time when Bluetooth headsets were considered too silly and rude to wear in public, and these have been completely normalized now.
Moreover, Google is not the first to dip a toe in these waters. Snapchat is now on the fourth generation of its Spectacles camera glasses, Meta has its Ray-Ban Stories, and you could say Meta’s Project Aria test is pretty similar to what Google is doing now. None have yet generated the kind of stink that Google Glass did a decade ago.
Of course, that could change if a future pair of glasses turn out to be more intrusive than our existing phones and drones. There are sure to be some serious questions about data collection and privacy, especially given the track record of some of the companies building them.
But in 2022, I think the biggest challenge facing Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Snap is figuring out how to create AR experiences that we actually pay for — experiences that are more compelling or convenient than what phones already offer. As we wrote in May when Google launched real-time translation glasses, the company has an intriguing idea:
It’s very difficult to watch this video and see a Glasshole. But it’s also all too easy to spot vaporware.