February 17, 2014

Can Google Glass Increase Liberty?

By: Joseph Hammond

DOHA, QATAR — If you ever wanted to see skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and NBA all-star Dikembe Mutumbo under one roof, the Doha GOALs conference may be for you. In one panel, Harvard Business students presented a plan based on using Google Glass as an advertising platform. The most intriguing thing about the session for me was an opportunity to glance and pass with the $1,500 new toy.

As someone who wears prescription lenses, I found them interesting, but somewhat awkward to use. Given the sleekness of Apple products, this Google effort seemed clunky. Of course, Apple had its clunky phase. I remember the Apple IIe of the 1980s which while clunky, proved a work horse and was in production for 11 years. But anyone who used an Apple IIe, even if just to play “Oregon Trail,” will tell you it was not Star Trek. Everyone was expecting more powerful machine. The MBA student who owned the pair told me Ray Ban may partner with Google Glass in the future and that prescription lenses versions were in development.

Through-out history, there have been periods in which technology has allowed either the consolidation of power or its diffusion. For example, the printing press allowed the great diffusion of power as the number and types of literature available multiplied. Yet, in the early 20th century, the near simultaneous development of the radio, television, tank and submarine all helped the consolidation of totalitarian power, as observers of the time such as George Orwell noted.

Where on the spectrum is Google Glass? For some, Google Glass is worrisome. The technology will allow people to identify strangers in public or record identities in a clandestine way. An individual in Ohio recently who visited his local cinema wearing Google Glass, was detained by local authorities despite his apparent willingness to let authorities inspect the data on his device. Such concerns are amplified by Google’s announcement in January of a Google Contact Lens which could make such technology clandestine. Currently, this device will only allow diabetics to check their glucose levels continually.

Yet, there are several ways Google Glass can increase liberty by promoting greater transparency. The wearing of Google glass by workers in the public sector, for instance, could help improve government transparency. Los Angeles County Police have been conducting trials with personal video cameras similar to Google Glass. Allowing the police to film their encounters with the public and potentially save millions in lawsuits.

Why stop there? The technology could also be used on metro-transit operators and also hospital staff to head off malpractice lawsuits and other safety concerns. Indeed, Google Glass is already improving medicine. On June 20, 2013, Rafael J. Grossmann, MD, FACS, a Venezuelan surgeon practicing in the United States, used Google Glass during a live surgical procedure.   Not to be outdone, a doctor in Spain broadcast a surgery through the use of Google Glass a day later. The surgery was live-streamed, with a specialist in California providing support. Of course, there are better high-tech options to having Google Glass film your latest traffic ticket stop: Google is currently experimenting with cars that drive themselves.

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