Peripheral potential: Seeing Google Glass as half-full
If you’re a human-type being that’s on the interwebs, you’ve undoubtedly come across the below video. Since it’s announcement mid-last year, Google Glass has faced equal parts interest and ridicule - with some placing it on par with Bluetooth-headset-wearing douche-bags, creepy stalkers who can record you without anyone’s knowledge and the people that ride Segways.
The majority of coverage – and even Google’s promotions – seem to be focusing on the “what’s in it for me?” proposition. And truth be told, our increasingly self-centric society tends to esteem value to “the next big shiny thing” according to what it can do for us.
For the most part, that’s totally how I evaluated Google’s latest foray into wearable technology: it’s cool, but I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one, seriously. However, a recent throwaway comment in a tech forum (I forget which) got me thinking that this may have amazing use cases beyond my own selfish consumerism.
A Cognitive Cog
Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life…
[Symptoms can include] persistent and frequent memory difficulties, especially of recent events; vagueness in everyday conversation; apparent loss of enthusiasm for previously enjoyed activities; taking longer to do routine tasks; forgetting well-known people or places; inability to process questions and instructions; deterioration of social skills; emotional unpredictability.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia accounting for between 50% and 70% of all dementias… At present there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, one group of drugs called cholinergeric drugs appears to be providing some improvement in cognitive functioning for some people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease…
However, there is always a deterioration over time. It is a progressive and currently irreversible disease.
The medical field still has not been able to halt degenerative diseases that erode the mind. But what if there was something that could assist (or at the very least, manage) the symptoms?
Enter Glass: an “always on” display that could assist the wearer with facial recognition, provide key information on anything they need or want to know – from the simple “where am I?” to the more convoluted “who is this person standing in front of me?”
- Regain freedom: get out and about without the fear of getting lost or disoriented. With Google Maps/Navigation on-board, Glass could load saved locations for “home” or pre-prepared routes to shops and other places of interest.
- Ease of use: With its highly intuitive user interface, all the wearer needs to do is speak – no need to “remember” complicated functionality or learn complex technological command skills.
- Active reminders: “Push” notifications can be triggered by prompts such as time or location via GPS. At home at 3:30pm on a Tuesday? Time for you totake 2 blue pills in the bathroom cabinet. Can’t recall who you’re speaking with? Facial recognition could bring up key information to jog the wearer’s memory (e.g. Sally, your youngest daughter, age 24, etc)
- 24/7 care: Following on from active reminders, it could also be pre-programmed with regularly-scheduled exercises and therapy to help with cognitive improvement, address symptoms (e.g. fighting depression by scheduling video calls with family), or allowing a nurse/carer to monitor the wearer’s activity to some degree.
While I am in no way suggesting that Google Glass is a miracle cure for such a devastating and debilitating disorder, I think it has the potential to help manage the symptoms – especially in the early stages.
Another potential use case for Google Glass is to assist the deaf or hard of hearing. Now, I know what your knee-jerk reaction is: how will a predominantly voice-operated device benefit the deaf?
Well, according to the World Federation of the Deaf, one of the basic rights they fight for is equal access to information and services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The NAD [National Association of the Deaf] advocates for and looks forward to an even brighter future where new technologies take root and tumble communication barriers to ensure equal access for deaf and hard of hearing people and full participation in all aspects of American life. At the same time, the NAD seeks to ensure that new technologies, applications, and equipment are accessible, available, and affordable to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“A future where new technologies take root and tumble communication barriers…”
That’s a beautiful goal, isn’t it? Well, with a little imagination (and some serious nerd-coding) Google Glass may just inch us closer to such a dream.
Imagine if Google Glass was able to utilize the microphones and provide a visual representation of the direction, intensity and nature of sounds in the wearer’s environment. There could be a database of sounds tagged as “warning signs” for danger (e.g. car horns, breaking glass, yelling, gun shots, even assessing “tone of voice”, etc) which could provide an additional “sense” that the wearer could use to process their surroundings.
Video calls could also be much easier “out and about” as both hands can be freed for communication via sign language rather than propping up a smartphone or webcam in a stationary position (e.g. if the wearer is walking on the street, they could start up a video chat with a friend and focus the camera on their own hands whilst “signing”. In addition, the wearer could provide instructions to Glass through sign language, which could be based on a database that improves/acclimatizes to the wearer’s nuances and location (i.e. similar to how smartphone/stylus handwriting recognition software “learns” from the writer’s idiosyncrasies) or simply through utilizing their smartphone keyboard which is tethered to Glass.
Furthermore, with Google’s ever-improving work with voice recognition software/algorithms, the Glass microphone could pick up what someone is saying and provide live captioning. Or Glass could download assisted content so they can enjoy social activities we take for-granted (e.g. subtitles/captions for a film at the movies) This device could essentially subtitle the world for the wearer. No, speech recognition software is nowhere near the level of proficiency required for “live captioning” – but with heavy investment from industry heavy-hitters like Apple and Google (Siri and Google Voice, respectively) it’s closer than we may think.
Now, these are just two potential use cases for Google Glass and I don’t even dream that I have all the answers. I’m sure they need to be fleshed out in much more realistic detail, but hey – it’s a start down an exciting rabbit hole of possibilities (imagine how it can be applied to assist the blind…)
The bright side of Google Glass
With Project Glass, Google is taking its first timid steps into an untamed frontier of wearable technology. Google’s vision of this future may gather some storm clouds around privacy concerns – and rightly so – but there is a silver lining. Yes, by all means let’s tread cautiously and assess the inherent issues and dangers of a Google Glass-enabled world, but let’s also not blind ourselves to the potential merits that lie beyond “what’s in it for me?”
Let’s figure out if it’s a goldmine or a landmine before we cynically stomp on Google Glass. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.