Google's augmented reality: random thoughts on Project Glass
The following is an unedited look at Ross Miller's stream of consciousness. Safety not guaranteed.
Although there was mild chatter about it earlier this year, Google's Project Glass really came out of nowhere yesterday. An augmented reality eyepiece that feels closer to science fiction than it does tangible reality. Not only did Google give its wearable a name, it also gave a concept video and a relatively short timeframe (read: this year) for release of a consumer product. Think about it: you could be spending New Year's Eve on a rooftop playing a ukelele and watching fireworks while sharing your literal point-of-view with a friend from across the world. Just remember to turn off the video stream before the night goes downhill.
Project Glass caused quite a reaction both on our site and indeed across the internet, for a number of reasons.
It's rare to see a new form factor these days. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions... we care about how the chassis looks but can pretty accurately describe each one without much mental work (answer key: screen with camera, bigger screen with worthless camera, screen with hinge and keyboard, screen too big to move around you). Processors get predictably faster and smaller, sensors get added to measure every little change in surrounding molecules. It's predictable and it's arguably boring and driven more by software. People argue over platforms, with the hardware being somewhere between a fashion icon and a portal for Facebook and Angry Birds.
That's what makes technology like wearables so interesting. No one's quite figured out how to throw gadgets on our body in a meaningful way. Jawbone and Nike are doing some interesting things with Up and Fuel Band, respectively, and I think that's a trend we're still seeing in its infancy — destined to grow much bigger. But it's really just measuring, not displaying or interacting. And then there's eyewear like Project Glass, a milestone in Google's promise to put a computer in front of us all day. And you know what? People have gotten really damn excited.
And people reacted with creations of their own.Technology today — the parts of it we don't wear — have evolved so quickly that making a high-production parody, a statement that lives itself as a creation, takes little time and effort. Less than 24 hours after Project Glass, I've seen two well-done video parodies of Project Glass. The first:
Between the wonderment and excitement — and make no mistake it's there — is the obvious consequences of learning to manage cultural shifts brought about by the form factor. We'd be gargoyles, in the Neal Stephenson / Snow Crash sense, but in the early days where people have trouble focusing and constantly run into trees or forget to look both ways crossing the street... but then again, wouldn't eyewear be better than constantly looking down at our phones like we do already? At least we'd be looking up the whole time.
After all, it's the future we've all been promised in countless works of science fiction both new and old. Chief among them would be Garrus Vakarius from Mass Effect and various characters from Dragon Ball. Then there's Geordi La Forge's visor from Star Trek (although I don't think many people particularly want *that* eyewear for everyday situation), Adam Jenson's sunglasses from Deus Ex, and my absolute favorite from the past 24 hours, Nada's special sunglasses from They Live.
That last example might be most fitting the most recurring joke in Google's prototype. In the movie They Live — sorry, I'm spoiling some plot points, it's a 24-year-old movie... seriously, just go watch it — Nana's glasses show the world for what it really is: aliens living among us and ads full of not-so-subtle subliminal messaging. And what Google project could be complete without ad integration?
Personalized ads have evolved from a dystopian fear to a point of contention to something that most people have stopped caring about. And with the same joy of our imagination comes the sensationalized note of caution (that likely isn't too far from our future reality). From ads to ad block and even catblock — a horse_ebookmarklet wouldn't be far behind. The second video:
Of course, the image I saw most often (in either JPG or animated GIF format) was Fry from Futurama screaming "Shut up and take my money." And that's just it — for all the concerns we have, what made Project Glass so inspiring was that it seems to come straight out of science fiction and into the real world. With promises from a company big enough to keep them. Announced on a date that, thankfully, is days after April 1st. And it won't just be Google — we've seen Microsoft talk about the future in a very similar way. It's not an "if" but a "when." Just be thankful it doesn't look like this:
But I could be so lucky for it to look like this:
Okay, okay, so the whole point of this was to re-pimp my GIF.
Deal with it.