At their developer conference a few weeks ago, Google announced their highly anticipated Google Glasses will be released to the public sometime next year. This came as a surprise to some who assumed the Glasses were just another example of Google’s futuristic Project X products that are probably years away from actual release (see Google Cars). Watching the original demo video, the glasses look like the natural progression from smartphones and it’s hard not to see this as the future.
The glasses themselves invoke a strong resemblance to the lenses that appear in the final episode of Charlie Brooker’s excellent 3 part Black Mirror series from late last year, ‘The Entire History Of You’. In the show, the characters have tiny computers implanted behind their ears that work with contact lenses to capture and record all the moments in their life, giving them the ability to access and re-live their past memories on demand. The episode focuses on the negative emotional repercussions of this ability on the characters lives, as they obsess over memories instead of living life in the present.
“We think technology should work for you—to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t”, explained the Google Glass team in a post announcing project Glass. It’s a goal that sounds harmless enough, and is a sentiment repeated by tech titans past and present, from Steve Jobs to Jack Dorsey. But what’s the end goal of this ambition? We are on track to make technology a seamless, natural experience within our daily life. These innovators don’t want to make technology a separate ‘thing’ that we turn to when we need it; rather, they want to immerse it into the fabric of our lives until it becomes part of us - the ultimate frictionless, intuitive and personal experience.
Google Glass marks the latest step in a trend that’s seeing the physical space between humans and computers diminishing; from desktop computers that we left on desks, to laptops that we could travel with, to smartphones that we carry everywhere, and now Google Glasses that’ll we’ll have permanently placed in front of our eyes, allowing us to take pictures, record videos and get directions to the train station without clicking a button. Inevitably, innovation dictates that contact lenses are likely to replace glasses soon after. And before we have time to consider the consequences, there we’ll be, living in Charlie Brooker’s imagined future, spending our lives repeating recorded life-like memories from our past. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With Google Glass and future iterations, our tech will have much more functionality than the simple ability to record and play videos from your life, and that’s why our almost inevitable slide into this future could have such a profound and far reaching effect on human evolution.
There’s plenty of things that computers can do much better than us and tech giants such as Apple and Google are currently ensuring we can take advantage of this through our phones. Trying to remember a fact you learnt? Google it. Trying to calculate a maths sum? Use a calculator app. Trying to figure out what restaurant to go to tonight? Ask Siri. Now Imagine if all the useful applications you get from your smartphone were readily available within your head via a chip.
But that’s not all. The big innovation that will make this technology so seamless is the twin advancements of visual and voice recognition software, giving this technology the intelligence to absorb and react to our environment without us having to give any instructions. Already, plenty of progress is being made; Siri and Google Now in voice recognition and Facebook/Google’s in visual recognition. It won’t be long till your computer will be able to recognise who someone is by mapping their face, then understand what they when they speak to you and provide an appropriate response. Someone will be able to have a whole conversation with you, without your brain being involved at all. They’ll just be talking to your Siri.
In books and films that imagine a future society, human evolution stays static whilst robots become ever more ingenious, powered by tech innovation. But evidence seems to be pointing to a different future. Whilst moore’s law ensures technological innovation continues to accelerate, tech breakthroughs are being passed onto improving our own lives rather than advances in robotics, where progress has been painfully slow.
What seems most likely is that we’ll slowly become a hybrid between the two; a computer enhanced human. Who needs robots that feel, when we’re perfectly capable of feeling ourselves? Rather than a future where we try to create robots that replicate ourselves, we’ll take the aspects that computers are better at and utilise these things to improve ourselves.
All the technologies I’ve mentioned are in development and are progressing rapidly, and in isolation each of these innovations aren’t too far away from where we are now. However, combined, these could have devastatingly powerful effect on humanity - the long term effects of which could be far reaching and potentially harmful.
We could be faced with a future where we outsource our brains when it comes to logic, memory and data processing. What would be the point in improving our memory, remembering a recipe, or learning math, when our heads can do it automatically from birth using our iLens? Technology is already changing the way our brains work. This effect would be greatly amplified if similar technology was contained within our bodies.
It’s a well known saying, ‘software is eating the world’. Will it eat us, from the inside out?
The difference between those that dream and those that do, according to Steve Jobs.
This is a brutally cringe-worthy interview. TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsosis has received some flak for her interview technique here, but really I just think she’s asking honest, albeit critical, questions about the service. What makes the interview so embarrassing is how badly Klout Founder Joe Fernandez’s answers her questions.
What I find most frustrating about Klout is the technology they’re building could be applied in a much more useful and more valuable way.
To truly fulfil it’s potential, Klout needs to alter it’s current focus of providing a narcissistic tool that allows people to measure their personal influence, and become a service that matches and recommends you with people to follow on social media channels based on similar interests and the quality of content they produce. If it built on its current technology to crack people recommendation and discovery on interest based social networks like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc, Klout could well become an attractive acquisition target for one of these sites, or maybe even Google (essentially, Klout would be the ‘Google for People’ in this scenario anyway).
But from the way the Klout Founder talks about the service, it seems their main goal is instead to help people measure and track their own influence on social media. I can’t help thinking they’re missing a trick here.
Apple has long been encouraging consumer web companies to create dedicated iPad and iPhone apps that take advantage of their unique form factor, and you only have to compare the excellent LinkedIn iPad app with it’s web equivalent to see how much better the UX is on dedicated apps. So why haven’t Apple adapted Safari to optimise for iPad and iPhone, instead of simply replicated the UI of Safari for Macs? Perhaps the lack of investment in Safari is part of Apple’s desire to destroy the web and make apps the standard online experience, all accessible through Apple’s walled garden, the app store. Or maybe not.
Nevertheless, innovation on tablet and mobile browsers has been badly needed for a while. And that’s why it’s brilliant news that Mozilla are working on a dedicated iPad browser called Junior. From the looks of the demo Junior appears slick, intuitive and it’s evident Mozilla have put a lot of thought into it. Cool features include the the replacement of text tabs with a full visual of the screens you’ve left open, within a home screen that also shows your regularly visited sites in a visual layout so you can easily get the sites you like within one click.
I can’t wait until this is released.
Things have just got very interesting in the tablet race. For the first time, I think iPad may have met it’s match.
Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, the Napster Co-Founders, explain how they came up with the idea of their new start-up, Airtime:
"Back when we first met, the internet was like the wild west. You could connect with people from different towns and countries through shared interests and hit it off…. Now the internet is so boring; there’s no serendipity… We’re all constrained through the social graph into connecting with our friends and there’s no way of connecting with new people".
That makes sense, and I agree with their analysis on what’s happened with the internet over the last few years. After the social revolution of web 2.0, our interactivity with new people online has diminished. In some ways, that’s a good thing as we’ve now got much better tools to stay in touch with our real life friends, but something has been lost in terms of the ability to connect with new, interesting people, through shared interests.
But while I agree with the problems they’ve identified, I think they’ve missed the mark when it comes to figuring out a solution.
People are most likely to form new friendships when there’s no pressure to do so - friendship is much more likely to occur as a by-product of connecting through a shared passion or interest. Take Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning as an example; they met on a hacker web forum in the late 90’s and bonded over a shared love of computers and building software. Their friendship formed as a consequence of their shared passions for computers.
Interest based social networks, or information networks, are forming the next generation of the web, and it’s already happening. Twitter led the pack with the asymmetric follow/follower model that allows you to connect with strangers and newer services such as Pinterest, Instagram and Quora are all built around connecting with people through shared interests rather than real life friendships. They’re the modern day version of web forums, as social information hubs where the primary purpose of these sites revolve around the interests of the site - i.e. photography on Instagram, fashion and crafts on Pinterest and information/knowledge on Quora; the common thread running through all these sites is that the social aspect is secondary to the interest around which the site involves.
These interest based social networks, or information networks, are going to continue to grow in popularity and new information networks will form to cater for further interests that are as yet untapped online in this way.
Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning identified many interesting insights into the state of the web and where it needs to evolve further. But the answer to these problems is not an online version of speed dating, where you’re pressurised to entertain or spark conversations with strangers without any prior communication or context. The answer, in other words, isn’t Airtime.