Critics address Google Glass danger and social stigma

Have you tried Google Glass? Would you like to? One in 10 Americans would like to, reports Brian Fung, writing in National Journal. But those who try the device may be a danger to themselves and others. Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris, writing in the New York Times, report, “…Glass may inadvertently disrupt a crucial cognitive capacity, with potentially dangerous consequences.”

Of course, if the product fails, we won't need to consider its dangerousness. In fact, Fung reports that 45% of Americans have “…already written off the device 'because of its awkward aesthetic or because the device seemed irritating'” (no mention of danger).

Fung, however, believes that dorkiness will not kill the product—or if it does kill the initial version, Fung suggests, follow-on versions incorporating brainwave readers and augmented-reality contact lenses will succeed. Brainwave readers, which are already helping disabled people interact with their environments, could eliminate the awkward head jerks associated with operating the Google Glass device. And the Centre of Microsystems Technology (CMST), imec’s associated laboratory at Ghent University (Belgium), has announced that it has already developed an innovative spherical curved LCD, which can be embedded in contact lenses for augmented-reality applications.

Of course, the augmented-reality contact-lens technology has yet to reach commercialization, and the EEG caps associated with brainwave readers have their own style problems. Nevertheless, successive versions of Glass or competing technologies will become easier to use, less intrusive, and more stylish. As Fung puts it, “Designs can be revised; software can be patched; people change their attitudes. Either society will create new social norms governing the use of Glass, or someone will build a device that addresses what society can't accommodate. As with the use of smartphones everywhere, we might decide that the tradeoffs are worth it. But we'll never have a conscious choice in the matter if our mockery of Glass 1.0 prevents us from considering what 2.0 might look like.”

I believe the proliferation of Glass or similar products is inevitable, and that brings up many areas of consideration, including the potential dangerousness of such devices, as discussed by Simons and Chabris in their Times article. They note that Sergey Brin has suggested that Glass might be safer than traditional technologies—for example, you can continue looking up rather than looking down at your phone to read a text message while walking around. Moreover, Glass doesn’t simply display new messages immediately on receipt—it issues an audible signal, and you can activate the display at your convenience.

Indeed, say Simons and Chabris, “Heads-up displays like Google Glass, and voice interfaces like Siri, seem like ideal solutions, letting you simultaneously interact with your smartphone while staying alert to your surroundings.” Indeed, they write, two national surveys they conducted showed that about 70% of Americans believe that “people will notice when something unexpected enters their field of view, even when they’re paying attention to something else.”

However, they continue, “The problem is that looking is not the same as seeing, and people make wrong assumptions about what will grab their attention.” They cite their own famous invisible gorilla experiment, in which observers try to count how many times a team of white-shirted players passes a basketball—most observers, intent on counting, miss the gorilla-suited figure who enters and exits the scene.

They explain, “Perception requires both your eyes and your mind, and if your mind is engaged, you can fail to see something that would otherwise be utterly obvious.” They cite research showing that commercial airline pilots viewing heads-up instrument displays can become “…less aware of their surroundings, even leading to crashes in simulated landings.”

They conclude, “Only by understanding the science of attention and the limits of the human mind and brain can we design new interfaces that are both revolutionary and safe.”

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