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Google Glass: man and machine coming together

in LOCAL/REVIEWS/VIEWPOINTS by
jamesreslier-wells
James Reslier-Wells

 

Star Trek’s Borg were my favorite bad guys as a child. Half-organic, half-machine, bionic implants and cold, calculating disposition made them everything that humanity is not. With their systematic “assimilation” (read: annihilation) of every species they met, they were a delight to hate. Why then, am I so excited about Google Glass, which looks remarkably like the precursor to a Borg implant?

Project Glass is Google’s forthcoming device whose aim is to move the smartphone display out of your hands and beam it directly into your eyeball. Glass is essentially a pair of eyeglass frames with the lenses replaced by a small, transparent screen extending over the wearer’s right eye from a sleek frame-mounted computer.

This allows virtual data and images to be displayed over the wearer’s field of vision. It may not herald the imminent arrival of hoverboards and floating cities, but it does indicate a significant paradigm shift in humanity’s relationship with technology.

This feels like the future I have been waiting for. Now I get to feel like a jet-fighter pilot with augmented-reality targeting scanners, and I can fire my hamburger-quality-detection lasers simply by instructing my trendy new guide to do so.

It is difficult to imagine Glass as anything but the first commercial step toward the integration of man and machine. A possible future both romanticized and reviled in futurist canon. I believe we are on the verge of radically redefining “humanity.” In the future, we will not be limited by the constraints of our flesh-and-blood bodies. Rather, we will be able to augment our physical form to suit our changing needs.

Researchers have been developing ways to digitally communicate with the human brain’s visual cortex. In February, researchers at The University of Tubingen in Germany unveiled the Alpha IMS, a highly capable bionic eye.

The marvel of the IMS lies in the fact that it is hardwired to a patient’s brain, according to a recently published article on tech news outlet extremetech.com. It may not be long before the information captured on peripheral devices like Google Glass will be wired directly into our brains.

Another tech news giant, Engadget, recently reported on a bionic hand developed by Swiss researchers through which patients can feel. Earlier this month, researchers at Brown unveiled a viable wireless brain-computer interface—essentially enabling a form of robotic psychokinesis.

I admit that I have joked about the consequences of an “i-Eye,” but the gap between the possibility and reality of such a device closes with each research step. Not everyone is excited about Project Glass. Its’ existence has brought safety and privacy concerns to the forefront of tech-world discussions.

An opponent of Project Glass is a group calling themselves “Stop the Cyborgs.” Featured in a BBC tech news story, the group explains one concern: “Google Glasses… can act as a video camera so using these or similar devices someone might be filming you and uploading it to the internet without you knowing.”

On their website, www.stopthecyborgs.org, the group is pushing for Google to guarantee the privacy of people who may not realize they are being recorded by Glass.

Already, West Virginia lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make illegal the use of “wearable computers with a head mounted display” while driving.

The issue I take with this “surveillance state” school of thought is this: who exactly, are we trying to protect ourselves against? Anyone could be present in the background of smartphone photos without realizing it.

It is no great revelation that Google wants to know what people are doing these days. Targeted marketing is what makes Google a viable business model, enabling them to produce revolutionary content like Glass. I much prefer seeing advertisements for products and services that actually interest me than the randomized ads of the days prior to Google’s interest in my interests.

Ten years ago, I would have looked at Google Glass with suspicion; fearing this Borg-like appendage promising to connect me to the world in exchange for an active description of my personality. However, today I am confident in the one element that remains central throughout my use of media technology: my humanity. By opening my mind to the transformative power of technology, I am not becoming the soulless machine I once feared; I am becoming more human than I would ever have dreamed possible.

 

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