Spontaneity and sharing vs. control and dominance: Project Glass, augmented reality, and where we’re headed

In his recent Disruptions column about Google’s Project Glass, Nick Bilton from the New York Times points out the potential of this technology in getting out of the way of real, shared experience. Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, and the verbiage used on a Google page about Project Glass also use the same expression. Project Glass involves a display unit that is mounted on a frame that resembles conventional glasses. By means of this apparatus, wearers can record images and events, then transmit and share them through the cloud, or view data related to the people, artifacts, buildings, or natural phenomena they see.

Bilton enthuses about the potential role of the technology in story-telling. Without a person having to hold a camera, the capture of events or scenes can be more immediate. In some cases it will be possible when it would not have been without the technology. The video of sky divers on the Google site illustrates nicely what this might look like. So does the video of the mother and her baby, which also points in a very different direction. If Project Glass succeeds in making the devices very small, they may not necessarily be affordable, but they can be pervasive. Almost anybody will be able to record almost anything, in almost any situation, and transmit it anywhere. Intimate statements and moments might or might not be so. In addition to happy families and people capturing special experiences, benevolent and malevolent researchers and spies will enjoy a new level of visibility. Or invisibility, if you like. The smaller the devices become, the more regulation and legal action we will see in relation to them. Some people, authorities, and countries will find ways to control the technology, punishing the users and usages they object to.

Consider the augmented-reality aspect of Project Glass,

Sharing of an experience with Google’s Project Glass… (photo copyright 2012 Google)

the ability to overlay the ordinary visual reality with contextual information that tells you what you might not be able to see—the layout of a building, the dimensions of a tumor, the capability of a weapon, the components of a material, the manufacturers and costs of a certain item in your warehouse. How will this play out when people receive training?  Will some of them receive less training than they would today, because the device they wear can to a degree make up for a lack of education? What would it mean for the military and first responders working in dramatic, threatening situations where the right kind of information might make it possible to make the right decision in a life-and-death situation? Less dramatically, how will this technology help travelers find their way, speak the right word in a foreign language, and understand their surroundings? Or will it add yet another barrier to their experience, much like the DK Eyewitness Travel guides many people hold in front of their faces as they ostensibly find themselves in an interesting locale far from home? Where are they really, and where will they be then?

The U.S. military is already exploring what AR can help it accomplish. Private enterprises will find many applications for it, especially if an entity like Google popularizes the concepts and technologies behind it. There are two movements at play here: the spontaneity and immediacy in the recording and sharing with Project Glass. And the data-driven task and decision support, control, and ability to overcome the merely natural that AR makes possible. In the coming years, we will watch the potential of both tendencies unfold.

…vs. AR and an increased ability to control, decide, and take action.

As a writer and content person, I can see that story tellers might be able to tell more direct, involving, emotionally powerful stories with something like Project Glass. I can also see that some story-telling might disappear and that sharing of actual experience might take its place instead.

With Project Glass, as the enthusiasts say, technology might get out of the way. At the same time, it becomes the way. It is both the vehicle and the journey we go through as our sense of self changes. For today, I choose to hope that the immediacy of the shared experience will help us to be more empathetic, compassionate, and involved with the people and animals with whom we share the world.

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Filed under augmented reality, communications, content, story telling, technology

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