Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion]

Dave Parrack 26-04-2012

Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion] Project Glass HorrorAt the beginning of April Google unveiled Project Glass, a new effort to bring smartphone functionality to your eyeball(s). And that’s not me overstating the case. This is a HUD (Heads-Up Display) offering augmented reality, and it’s in development right now at Google HQ.


We have already heard from James how this technology is perfectly feasible Actually, Google's Project Glass Concept Video Is Possible [Opinion] Google recently released a concept video for their Project Glass. Today I'd like to take a closer look at the technical feasibility of these real-life Google Goggles; what we know; and why this concept video... Read More , and that the concept video Google proferred isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking. Chris then detailed why he loves the idea 5 Reasons Why Google's Project Glass Is The Future & Why That's Awesome [Opinion] Google’s Project Glass has everyone talking. It’s a glimpse of the future of augmented reality, wearable computing, and better integration of the Internet and technology in our day-to-day lives. Imagine replacing your smartphone with a... Read More of a future in which we’re all walking around with Google glasses stuck to our faces. I’m not so keen at this early stage, and here are the reasons why an augmented reality future powered by Google scares me.

Always On the Grid

Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion] On The Grid

I work online and love the Internet for many, many reasons. It helps me pay my bills, it has educated and entertained me in equal measure, and become a big presence in my life. But I’ve tried not to make it an indelible part of my life, and I try to take at least one day off the grid every week. It’s not long enough really, but it helps keep me connected with the real world, a world beyond the digital realm.

While it will undoubtedly be just as easy to remove a pair of Project Glass specs as it is to turn off a computer or ignore a smartphone, I’m not convinced people will, or will want to, do that. Once life with this layer of augmented reality is experienced, how many of us will actively choose to remove that layer in order to return to the usual, humdrum reality of just seeing what is in front of our faces?

I fear people will choose to remain on the grid at all times, attached to the Internet, but detached from the wider world that life itself offers.


Distraction = Ignorance

Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion] Distraction1

If the emergence of mobile technology has taught us anything it’s that people can be incredibly rude when distracted by something supposedly more interesting. I doubt there is anyone reading this who hasn’t had to suffer the ignominy of being ignored by someone who is too busy either ringing, texting, or emailing someone, or doing anything else on their smartphone or tablet. Unless I am very boring company.

Imagine for a moment how much worse this trend will be when we all start wearing augmented reality goggles. Information will be beamed right in front of our faces, even when we’re in the middle of a conversation. Have we got the capacity to ignore this in order to carry on conversing with each other? Or to be respectful in the midst of such a barrage of messages and images?

I fear Project Glass will lead to more distraction, and in turn, more ignorance. Our ability to focus on those around us is going to be severely tested by this technology.


Alone Together

Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion] Alone Together

The Internet has made the world a much smaller place. I know people from around the world, MakeUseOf has writers living on most continents, and generally speaking Earth is now a global village where physical location is of less importance than ever before. With this the idea of friendship and meaningful contact has changed, and not for the better.

Smartphones have already begun this trend of us being connected to the wider world while being disconnected with people standing next to us. And an augmented reality 6 Free Apps To Try Out Augmented Reality On Your iPhone Augmented reality is way cool. Using your camera, location and the right apps, it is possible to overlay useful, relevant information on top of live camera images to provide an enhanced view of the world... Read More future is only going to make this worse. If I imagine a day when the majority of people are walking around wearing these things I see a day when we’re ignorant of our closest neighbors while communicating with someone on the other side of the planet. A form of self-initiated isolation.

I fear the online, digital realm will become the norm, at the expense of the people, places, and objects in our natural environment.


Don’t Be Evil

Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion] Dont Be Evil

Google chose a mantra to live by in its early days. An informal corporate slogan which simply states, ‘Don’t Be Evil.’ It’s a great shorthand for what the company was supposed to be about. Unfortunately the company has had to bend the rules and break its own golden rule as it has grown into the behemoth we know it as today. Perhaps evil is a strong word to describe anything Google does, but some of its practices aren’t exactly wholesome or innocent.

Google already knows a lot about you and your online habits. With Google Search, and Google Android as mere starting points it has its eyes and ears everywhere. Alongside Facebook and others, it’s part of the culture of an erosion of privacy we’re all experiencing on the Web. With that in mind the last thing any of us should do is give Google access to our whole lives, which is what Project Glass would enable in a dystopian future.

Project Glass would enable Google to be involved in aspects of your life that are currently off-limits. They would know where you’re going, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with. The default will likely be to have everything switched on to enable the full augmented reality experience. If you think Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policy is bad, imagine what the Project Glass privacy policy would be like as it evolved.


I fear getting the most out of Google’s technology will mean giving up any idea of privacy we’re currently desperately clinging on to.


Why An Augmented Reality Future (Google Project Glass) Scares Me [Opinion] De Evolution

The concept video Google delivered to herald the arrival of Project Glass shows someone relying on the device for almost everything. It’s reminding him of appointments, noting down concert dates, and giving him directions (even inside a book shop). All things we can already do with existing technology, granted, but with a new ease that means it will become standard practice.

Having this opportunity to bypass our brain’s own natural capacity to think, remember, learn, and adapt could mean laziness will set in. We have already lost the ability to do things our long-distant ancestors could do without a second thought. And that will happen once more should this technology one day reign supreme.

I fear the more reliant on technology we become the less we’ll be able to cope with even the simplest of tasks. De-evolution beckons.


I can guess how I will be perceived after writing this article. I’ll be labeled the same as those naysayers throughout history who have urged caution in the face of emerging technologies. But I’m comfortable with that. It’s not that I’m against Project Glass or that I believe it to be a folly. In fact, I believe this is the natural next step beyond smartphones and touchscreen tablets.

That doesn’t, however, make me incapable of seeing the possible downsides of Project Glass and the competing systems of wearable augmented reality guaranteed to show up over the next decade or so. Perhaps the positives will outweigh the negatives, some of which I have outlined above. But I remain unconvinced for the time being.

As always we welcome your comments on the article above. Do you agree or disagree with my views? Feel free to let me know either way. Opinion is free, discussion is good, debate is healthy.

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  1. sam
    May 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    As with all new technologies there are negative possibilities. When man harnessed fire he used it to cook his meals and forge his weapons. On the other hand fire has destroyed many people and things. I wonder where we would be now if we disavowed fire because of its burning potential.

  2. Poetry
    May 2, 2012 at 3:25 am

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  3. ben
    May 1, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Reality is good enough for me - I don't need it enhanced. We should perhaps spend more time looking at what is actually there.

    As a father of 3 smallish kids, it always amuses me to see how all parents now feel compelled to video school concerts with their phones. They spend the entire event watching the performance on the screen of their iPhone and completely miss the live show. To be honest most of the performances are a bit of a chore to get through, but I'm happy to be left with the (fleeting, inaccurate?) memory of the live performance rather than the perfect MPEG, having missed the live show.

    Or maybe it's just that my kids' performances are rather lame.

  4. Brian
    May 1, 2012 at 2:47 am

    All very sober and important insights, though I think they're better addressed toward AR as a while rather than to just one service provider. I have made similar points on my blog. While there's a lot to love about AR technology and its arrival seems inevitable, the only way to minimize the downsides is to anticipate them.

  5. Chris Hoffman
    April 29, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    A well-argued counterpoint. Intelligent people can definitely disagree on this, and we'll see how it plays out.

    Personally, I tend to think that this gets technology out of the way -- instead of looking down at a slab of glass, you're looking up around you and the information is overlayed. Instead of pulling out a smartphone and paying attention to it, you immediately get the info and go back to the real world.

    The history of technology is a history of outsourcing our memory to other things. For example, when books and writing came about, generations passed down information in them instead of with oral storytelling. These days, people Google things instead of remembering them.

    I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. People don't want to remember these things -- phone numbers, calendar appointments -- we were writing them down long before computers. This just makes the process more convenient.

    I suppose it could lead to laziness, but it could also lead to more mental capacity for meaningful work.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 30, 2012 at 11:31 am

      You counter some of my points very well, Chris.

      At least with a smartphone you actively have to make the decision to look at it, but these are going to be there all the time. I do think that will lead to us ignoring each other more.

      That is a very good point. If we use this technology to become more productive, being able to use our brain capacity for things better than remembering random crap, then perhaps would that be an advantage. It's a gamble though.

      • Chris Hoffman
        May 1, 2012 at 4:27 am

        Ultimately, it's a double-sided blade with the potential for both outcomes, depending on the individual -- like most things.

        Even if it doesn't lead to being more productive -- maybe that's a good thing. If it removes the mental effort involved with remembering things and frees people up to just take a few more quiet moments or do something they enjoy, that's still a win. Not everything has to be about productivity!

  6. carlos
    April 27, 2012 at 3:53 am

    I was really struggling with how this would lead to ignorance. I reread the article a few times and still wasn't getting it..... It finally occurred to me that you're redefining the word 'ignorance' to include ignoring things. They're not at all the same....... Ignorance is a state of not knowing about something. Everyone is ignorant in some respects. I'm ignorant when it comes to auto mechanics, or rocket surgery...... Apparently, in this case you were ignorant of the definition of ignorance. The nice thing about ignorance is that we can learn and no longer be ignorant. Sometimes it's as easy as someone coming along and saying, "Hey, that word doesn't mean what you think it means..." Sadly, for me, it will take more than a casual comment on the interwebz for me to overcome my ignorance of rocket surgery.

    And now I need to go back and read it again with the understanding I have now, because I think you made some good points.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 27, 2012 at 4:36 am

      I've learned something. Clearly I was the ignorant one. I have always used ignorant to describe someone who ignores me in a deliberate or willful manner. There's a certain irony there.

      Hopefully you'll see past the ignorant use of one word and see the good points I do make, but then I would say that. As for the rocket surgery (whatever that is) I'm afraid I cannot help you.

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. Charles
    April 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I remember reading a novel some years ago about a civilization where technology made it possible to transport your "essence" into a computer generated world where you never felt hunger, needed sleep or had use for wealth--everything was given to you from go. The protagonist of the story was divided between his family who'd all already gone inside and his best friend whose family was against it at all costs. Finally, after finding love, he decided to go inside.

    Glass seems like the first step towards that kind of future and the scary part about it is as you mentioned: when given the option for an easier, faster (and by some sentiments better) lifestyle free of the archaic ways before, who would choose the old over the new? Even those that do are in danger of buckling under the peer pressure. Alongside that is the mandatory updates where you'll have no alternative but what's being offered e.g. Twitter making you go to NuTwitter or Blogger axing the tried and true layout.

    Small examples but symptoms of a possible (and frightening) future. Good article!

    • Dave Parrack
      April 27, 2012 at 4:39 am

      Thanks for commenting, Charles. I'm a huge user and advocate of the Internet and what it has done for the world. But if I look too far ahead to the future, of which Project Glass does seem to be an indicator, I'm a little scared. Perhaps I'm just getting old.

  8. Scutterman
    April 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Apart from my concerns about the health issues raised when dealing with lasers and eyes, I'm not sure I would ever actually use this technology.
    Most of the time I'm either at work, at home doing something specific, at home on the computer, or out and about doing something specific. None of these situations would have a great benefit from AR that I can't get from a smartphone.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      Google imagines we'll all be wearing them from dawn until dusk, or at least that's what the guy in the concept video does. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, would you not prefer to have it right there in front of your eye rather than having to take your phone out of your pocket?

      • Scutterman
        April 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm

        I like the ability to ignore things. If I get a text from someone I don't to reply to right away, I just keep it unread and put the phone back in my pocked. Same with emails. I can't see an easy way to do that if the notifications are right in my field of vision, and I tend to get very distracted and forget things unless I have a reminder.

        • Dave Parrack
          April 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm

          Back from the devil's shoulder I agree with you. I don't want to be online and on call all the time. I value the hours spent disconnected from the grid. Hopefully for me and you these things won't ever become compulsory apparel.

        • Scutterman
          April 26, 2012 at 9:28 pm

          My main worry is that, at some point, the bottom will drop out of the phone market and all that will be available is the project glass type devices. At that point, I'm going to just go back to my PAYG Nokia 3310

        • Dave Parrack
          April 27, 2012 at 4:36 am

          At that point all us Luddites will go back to Nokias... I guarantee they will have survived ;)

        • Scutterman
          April 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

          Plus: They have Snake on them.

        • Dave Parrack
          April 27, 2012 at 1:25 pm

          That's always an added bonus lol.

  9. James
    April 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Good read

  10. Yannis Vatis
    April 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

    I can see how people might have these concerns. I believe it all boils down to the good old mantra "everything in moderation". I disagree with the de-evolution point. I've always been lousy at remember birthdays and stuff but technology has made me better at this aspect of my life. Our brains can carry a finite number of stuff so by allowing tech to carry the recurring things we can focus on creating, thinking and progressing.

    Rude people will always be rude and find something to distract them. Before phones there were TVs in almost every public establishment. Guys will get distracted by the cute rear end that just pranced through the door.

    The bottom line is that tech should be there to enhance your life not overtake it. I welcome AR and anything else that is to come as long as its used for the right reasons.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      "Tech should be there to enhance your life not overtake it" is a great line. You also make a valid point that technology can do all the heavy work, freeing us up to be creative. I hope that turns out to be the case.

  11. Ritesh
    April 26, 2012 at 6:38 am

    Well, as interesting as this project sounds, my concern is it is making all really dependent. Life is gonna be too easy to be fun if this comes full blown.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      I think many of us are already dependent on computers and the Web. This is only going to increase that trend.

  12. ben
    April 26, 2012 at 5:52 am

    fear of the unknown mostly. yes there will be privacy concerns, but we need to tackle that today so that it won't be as big of an issue with emerging technologies. and remember, ideally, in a free market, google will not be the only one providing "3d" smart glasses or lenses.

    i thought car GPS would turn me into a totally inept robot, when in fact it made me more aware of my surroundings and led me to explore and seek to learn more about geology and geography.

    how is this technology any different?

    • Dave Parrack
      April 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      They're all very valid points. Google certainly won't be alone in offering this tech. I can imagine Apple has been spurred into action by the concept video. But do you think we'll be able to reclaim privacy at this point?

      Perhaps augmented reality specs will have a similar effect, but certainly technology as a whole has made humanity lazier.

      • B. Turner
        May 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm

        The key to maintaining one's privacy is knowing how to use whatever services that you're signed up for - including Google Glass.

        I'm sure that Google will make it possible to setup the system the way you want it, and will enable a certain level of flexibility, so that one doesn't feel that 'dystopian' future, that you mentioned creeping up on them (not that it won't be, but perhaps it won't feel as if it were the case, while it is happening.)

        Also, keep in mind that there will always be groups that will keep Google and others on their toes with regards to maintaining people's privacy.

        In essence, Google and others can only take as much of our privacy as we allow them to. Education of the pros and cons of this technology is key, as well as knowing what you're getting into.

        Improperly used, and Internet technology can be improperly used. It's up to us, as users, to be educated and to ensure that we're aware of what we're allowing, and to set limits on how we use any technology.

        'Off' switches are a wonderful thing ;)

  13. Terry
    April 26, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Glad I wasn't the only one thinking how augmented reality could have as many downsides as upsides.

    • Dave Parrack
      April 26, 2012 at 4:14 am

      I think there are a few of us. Many are getting caught up in the excitement of this emerging tech and ignoring the downsides though.

  14. Special K
    April 26, 2012 at 1:50 am

    I agree

    • Dave Parrack
      April 26, 2012 at 4:14 am

      Thanks, Special K. I'm glad someone does ;)