Google has presented “Project Glass” last week, a project to build augmented reality glasses “that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back into the moment.” When I heard about this first, I felt strangely reminded of the dystopian books written by Charles Stross.
Anything you say may be replayed in a court of law
I see the first practical application of “Googly Eyes” (which is what I decided to call it) in law enforcement. At first, they will be used to record all aspects of police action, from the time a police car leaves the car-pool to when a suspect has been arrested. Contrary to what you might think, this is not even a violation of your Miranda Rights since anything a person says to an officer of the law before being in police custody can already be used against him. However, the ability to rewind, replay and amplify voices and actions will certainly increase the extend to which pre-arrest questioning will be used.
Face recognition and license plate readers
The next step will be to link Googly Eyes with databases that store license plates and mugshots. While driving or walking around, computers in the cloud will process what the officers see. Mobile license plate readers for police cars already exist and with advances in facial recognition software it is conceivable that police officers would see a visual overlay of previous arrests, convictions, outstanding parking tickets etc. when looking at a group of people. Obviously they could then also query all other information that is available about whoever they are looking at.
Not having a mobile phone might make you look suspicious
Things become really interesting when you combine this technology with the fact that almost everybody is carrying mobile phone today. With the help of GPS, RFID tags and information obtained from mobile phone providers you could even scan a crowd of people and identify most of them without needing to see their faces, simply by inferring their identify from the phone they are carrying. People carrying no mobile phone or disposable phones could then be highlighted on the HUD and subjected to additional scrutiny or strip-searches, because obviously you have something to hide if you aren’t carrying a trackable phone.
Dangerous in the hands of unpleasant people
Of course, if law and order is your thing, then you probably think this is a good thing. But even if you don’t value your privacy, the thought of this kind of technology being applied in countries that persecute people based on their beliefs, political affiliation or sexual orientation should make you feel uncomfortable. After all, people who are “guilty” of belonging to a trade union, working for human rights or being gay could be highlighted on the glasses just as easily as drug lords.
Obviously, no technology is good or bad in itself. As the Google video (below) shows, there are many useful applications. But it still makes my skin crawl.