Would you look at the world through Google Glasses? If you did, what would you see? That may be an option soon, if a reliable report today that the company is in "late prototype stages" on just such a product, proves accurate.
The Wow factor is clear - but what would fashionable cloud (connected) glasses really mean? How might they change what it means to be human and to live in this world? Make no mistake, they certainly could have a deep impact for those who wear them - and possibly for those who are seen through them as well. There's no better time than now to begin considering it all. The best way to start is to recognize those who have already begun before us; in this case science fiction author Vernor Vinge is a key source of illumination.
Above: TV Glasses
Hints and Clues
Hot in the news today is a report from Nick Bilton of the New York Times that Google is developing wearable computers in the secret Google X Lab that Bilton wrote about last month. That prompted Google specialist Seth Weintraub, now at Fortune and formerly of Computerworld, to call the news "an open secret among some in the Google community."
Weintraub asserts the following based on his previous reporting and one unnamed source he cites today:
[Google is] "in late prototype stages of wearable glasses that look similar to thick-rimmed glasses that 'normal people' wear. However, these provide a display with a heads up computer interface. There are a few buttons on the arms of the glasses, but otherwise, they could be mistaken for normal glasses.
"...In addition, we have heard that this device is not an 'Android peripheral' as the NYT stated. According to our source, it communicates directly with the Cloud over IP.
"...We do not have a release date for this new device, but we know that Google Co-founder Sergey Brin is closely associated with the project and it will be Google-branded hardware."
From battery power to proper contextual understanding of a user's location to price to form factor - there are a lot of problems that Google is going to have to solve beyond the imagery and signal reception. Cellular devices are now so small and so cheap that connectivity is probably one of the easier problems the secret team is working on.
What Could it Mean?
The how-and-wow is certainly interesting, but questions of use cases and implications are important too.
Sci-fi authors and artists have been talking about this future for years.
New media choreographer Johannes Birringer has said he looks forward to a future where cloud glasses can be used in art "to enhance and enrich the performer and audience experience with the media."
Mike Kuniavsky, co-founder of smart connected device design firm ThingM, invokes science fiction writer Vernor Vinge's ideas when it comes to widespread Heads Up Displays:
"I think that [Vinge's] idea of consensual imaging among belief circles is interesting. I consider it a kind of physical manifestation of software skinning, mixed with ideas shared among members of a social-network (as a blogroll is, for example).
The implications of this both excite and scare me: it would be totally cool to overlay a trusted source's view of a given scene on mine, but I feel people already ignore the complexity of reality too much and tend to live on parallel planes that exclude ideas that challenge theirs.
I don't want Orrin Hatch's world skin (though I'd try it on to see what it looks like), and I don't think he wants mine."
Architect and urban futurist Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner references Vinge as well in imagining how devices like this could change the way people experience the cities they traverse.
"The social city..where IRL [In Real Life] meets virtual, means people/you are the manipulators. The dumb city gets smart and social. The explosion of mobile phones brings the internet into the streets.
"Augmented realities give maps, twitter, sensors, and layers of information. It's transformational. NYC phantom city tour, don't miss that. Heads up display like Vinge's Rainbows End. For architecture and cities, the implications are huge."
Content and Community Are ImportantAugmented Reality thought leader Robert Rice is skeptical of Google's prospects making Heads Up Displays. It's not just about hardware, he says.
"AR without a compelling application and intuitive interface to engage with content is like launching another playstation or xbox without any controllers or games. Everyone will buy one and then wonder what they were thinking later.
"Any success for AR is going to require open and accessible tools and very deep engagement with the broad developer community. It isn't enough to just create and launch one element. Who buys a computer monitor without a computer to plug it into?"
Artist and mobile technologist Julian Bleecker riffs on Vinge's talk five years ago at the Austin Game Conference.
Bleecker imagines a truly meaningful augmentation of reality...
Ways of revealing the linkages between 1st Life actions and consequences can be made sensible in ways that have been previously impossible.
New forms of networked interaction, participation & engagement that are not just about lightweight atoms & bits, RSS, and WoW raids, but about heavyweight action, the consequences of supra-atomic activities such as driving cars that are too big.
If I could have a heads up display akin to what WoW heavyweights have, but indicative of the relationships amongst a whole matrix of parameters that relate to my 1st Life actions..now that would be really significant."
In other words, Bleecker imagines the Cloud Glasses not displaying imaginary visions - but making things that have always been real, visible.
It's hard to imagine a more valiant calling for Augmented Reality than that.
No doubt most people will use their Google Cloud Glasses to play Angry Birds in an empty room (better that than Farmville!), or will wear them while wearing nothing else, but that's not the reason why any of these technologies are built and they don't represent any kind of limit to what's possible.
You may not want to visit StopHumanTraffic.com with your Cloud Glasses and your location turned on, but there are a whole lot of things good and bad that go on in the very same streets we all walk down every day that we don't see.
We may see the price of speed and altitude-displaying Heads Up Ski Goggles drop over time and it's not hard to imagine tourists wearing glasses given to them by visitors bureaus in major cities around the world.
But a SOPA'd future could also prohibit looking at copyrighted materials through your Cloud Glasses. There might have to be a splintered web that Cloud Glasses tie into in order to view things outside official channels. What would be on each side of that line? It's provocative to consider. Here comes the future, ready or not.