Seeing the world through Google-colored glasses

Google's dreamy vision of augmented reality could easily turn into a privacy nightmare

Google made an Apple-like splash this week when it released a concept video of its long-running augmented reality research known as Project Glass.

In the video, a Google geek wakes up in New York City, pours himself some coffee, and eats a bagel-egg breakfast sandwich while calendar reminders, messages, and weather updates appear and then vanish before his eyes. He tries to take the No. 6 subway uptown, but his glasses tell him the line is down, so he's shown walking directions to his destination. He visits a store, buys a book about how to play the ukulele, meets an equally geeky friend to buy coffee from a truck, snaps a photo, and flirts with a cute girl via a video call.

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From this video it's apparent that a) Google expects people to sleep with these glasses on, b) wearing them means prepared breakfast food just materializes in your kitchen, 3) lazy-ass engineers would rather take the subway than walk a dozen blocks (no wonder so many of them are fat), and 4) cute girls can't resist nerdy guys who wear geeky glasses and play the ukulele. (Trust me, they can.)

As I write this some 7 million people have watched that video; approximately 2 million of them hopeless dorks who have already run out and bought themselves ukuleles. And no, the glasses will not function as X-ray specs, no matter what some people might tell you.

What's missing from the video? The inevitable Google ads that are likely to sprout up before your eyes like some kind of Madison Avenue-driven acid flashback. But not to worry, pop culture hacker Jonathon McIntosh remixed his own "Ad-mented Reality" video by splicing in ads he'd taken directly from Google search results.

That is, I think, a more accurate representation of the world as Google sees it: an endless opportunity to wring money out of all of your activities and collect data about everything you do, instead of merely everywhere you surf.

Two days after the video was released, Sergey Brin appeared at a charity event in San Francisco wearing a prototype of these glasses. Needless to say, the prototype looks a bit clunkier than the sleek, almost invisible specs worn by the supermodels featured on Google's Project Glass G+ page. Per the Verge, Brin says the superspecs doesn't do much more at this point than reboot themselves.

No matter -- some geeks are already chomping at the bit, wanting a pair to call their own, privacy implications be damned. And the implications are enormous. Sure, augmented reality could be incredibly useful, not to mention cool in a SyFy channel kind of way. But you might as well just phone in your locations and activities to the FBI and every data miner on the planet. With absolutely no legal protections over the data that's collected, there are excellent reasons to be paranoid about where it will end up and how it will be used.

Unless of course Google is willing to give "Don't be evil" a reboot as well. I can't see that happening, no matter what glasses I put on.

Would you wear Google Goggles? State why or why not below or email me:

This article, "Seeing the world through Google-colored glasses," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.