This week all tech eyes were trained on the Google I/O conference. Apple's star has waned in recent years, as iteration rather than innovation has become the staple of its Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) conference. Google, whose I/O festival is in the ascendancy, find themselves in novel terrain: unveiling hyped up hardware in the form of Google Glass. Its uneven track record in rolling out new services (such as Google Wave) has underscored circumspect appraisals of the device's likelihood of success from onlooking tech pundits. Those who have far more nous than I in appraising the merit of Google's marketing have pointed out glaring problems and potential potholes in the product's gradual roll out. Those criticisms may well stand the test of time, as unboxing the products hardware indicates that Google is banking on igniting popular demand with this device.
But ultimately those critiques serve the purpose of filling column inches far more than they do of illuminating Glasses future prospects. As history has illustrated time and again, preempting the success of a new technology is a mug's game. Lurking beneath the flurry of commentary is apprehension about the magnitude of change Glass will evince on out lives. The resurfacing of time-honoured tropes, like its potential impact upon social etiquette, intimate our awareness of an impending paradigm shift which the device will bring in train. That is, if we choose to welcome it into the facets of our life that have, to date, eluded effective digital capture (and monetisation).
Preemption is the name of the game for Google Glass. The hardware promises to be an immense consolidation of Google's mission statement of delivering content to you before you knew you wanted it. Parallel moves by Google's mobile web output, such as rolling out Google Now (the mobile web service that serves up relevant content based on semantic analysis of your Google data profile - such as traffic news on a day when you're scheduled to fly) to iPads and iPhones and cross platform browsers are indicative of the new domains Google wants to colonise. Parasiting our anticipation marks a new contortion of the web as we have it now.
Your gaze is an untapped well of data, one that could be pretty effectively commodified by the sensor built into Google Glass that conducts eye tracking on your field of vision. Google have some of the best minds in artificial intelligence under their roof and you can bet they will make the most of this resource, if and when it comes online. This is a potent tool of biometric technology, poised to go mainstream. Elsewhere the same technology polices the lucidity of truck drivers, and creates uncanny machine-human feedback loops, such as eye-tracking security guards who watch CCTV camera feeds – all in the name of automating efficiency. Concern about this facet of Google Glass has already mobilised a vocal opposition movement.
For now, there's plenty of interesting wrinkles emerging from the workshops and events occuring at Google I/O. The potential for Google Glass to have unintended consequences within the realms of experience it impinges upon had, to date, prompted a cautious approach to app development. One calamatious misstep in those fields (car crashes to name one glaring example) could be curtains for the consumer appetite for the device, and was one of the reasons that an Apple-style vetting system for Glass apps was mooted by Eric Schmidt. In the wake of hackers quickly uncovering a backdoor into the systems functionality Google appeared to have rowed back on that position, hosting an open forum for developers at Google I/O. Risky perhaps, but a necessary step to create exciting implementations of the software, something that will set the device apart from the imitators in Japan.
The board is interestingly poised for when Google Glass eventually goes on sale in 2014. While the rest of us await the consumer model, it's probably best to appreciate Google Glass as an opportunity to immerse yourself in 'future fatigue (a term coined by William Gibson, and whose ramifications were lyrically unpacked by Warren Ellis earlier this year). That's the JG Ballard vision of the future, the mundane & banal triumphant over 'gee whiz'. Both Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, doyens of the cyberpunk and science fiction field (and the closest individuals that our society has to the oracles of old) have donned Google Glass in recent months. And yet do those moments prompt any stronger feeling than a shrug? For both the advocates and naysayers of Glass, navigating this increasingly commonplace reaction to novel technology presents the most interesting zone of contention.