4:42am

Wed April 17, 2013
Business

Seeing The World Through Goolge-Colored Glasses

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 12:17 pm

Google Glass is no longer merely a prototype. The company began delivering its high-tech glasses to a select group of test customers Tuesday.

The gadget looks kind of like a pair of eyeglasses, except it doesn't always have lenses and it has a tiny screen, about the size of the end of my pinkie, perched just above and to the right of the wearer's right eye.

When the screen is off, it's completely transparent and out of my line of sight. When on, it looks — well, I'll let Steve Lee, who helped create Google Glass, explain it: "Imagine you are sitting on your couch at home and you look across the living room and you look at your TV. That's roughly the size of what the display looks like with Glass."

Except it feels much more intimate than that. The picture is right there, an inch from my eye, along with a touch pad that runs along my temple.

Glass understands some voice commands, like giving directions and answering questions you'd normally Google. It reads your texts aloud in your ear and lets you respond just by talking.

But, first and foremost, Glass is a camera mounted right above your eye.

"Let's say I'm not very good at cooking and I might need to call ... Mom to get some help," Lee explains. "While I'm in the kitchen with my hands busy preparing the food ... my mom can actually see what I am doing" to coach him through dinner.

Glass does almost everything a smartphone does, hands-free. But Google is not selling it to the public yet. Just 10,000 people have won the right to pay $1,500 for a pair. Most of them earned this privilege by telling Google the creative things they'd like to do with Glass.

Dan McLaughlin, who picked up his set Tuesday, has about 30 or 40 ideas, he says, including creating a personal teleprompter. And Monica Wilkinson says getting Glass feels a little like getting a superpower.

"I have always wanted a computer in my head, basically," she says, "so this is like the first step." She plans to build an app to help her remember people's names at parties.

But a lot of people have asked me: Is Glass creepy? So I posed the question, nicely, to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Will this technology push us irreversibly closer to a total surveillance society?

"It's definitely something we think about," Brin says. "For one thing, there are thousands of products on the market that would be better for recording surreptitiously than this would be. And we have also tried to design the experience so it is clear what you are doing."

To snap a photo, you tell Glass to take it, and the display above your eye lights up for all to see.

"It's really a device that wants to be outdoors, wants to be outside, wants to be with family and friends," Brin says.

But mostly, Brin says, he's eager to see what thousands of creative people will do with it.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. How you react to this next story will depend on how you feel about technology. If you want to be as connected as possible with a camera and screen attached to you at all times, you might love something called Google Glass. If you worry that humans are being turned into robots, well, this might be downright scary. NPR's technology correspondent Steve Henn visited Google and has this glimpse of a future that's not too far off because Google Glass is no longer just a prototype.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Google Glass looks kind of like a pair of eye glasses - except it doesn't always have lenses and it has this tiny little screen - about the size of the end of my pinky. The screen's perched just above and to the right of my right eye. When this screen is off it's completely transparent and out of my line of sight. When it's on it looks - well, here's Steve Lee who helped create it.

STEVE LEE: Imagine you are sitting on your couch at home and you look across your living room and you look at your TV. What's roughly the size of what the display looks like with Glass except...

HENN: It feels much more intimate than that. The picture is right there an inch from your eye. And...

LEE: There is a touch pad.

HENN: That runs along my temple. Glass understands some voice commands. OK, Glass, get directions to... - If you have question and you want to Google an answer, Glass is perfect. It reads your texts aloud in your ear and then lets you respond - hi, I got your message - just by talking. But first and foremost Glass is a camera that's mounted right above your eye.

LEE: So, let's say I'm not very good at cooking and I might need to call back home to Iowa to mom to get some help. While I'm in the kitchen with my hands busy preparing the food and my mom can actually see what I am doing.

HENN: And she can coach him through dinner. Glass does almost everything a smartphone can, hands free, but Google is not about to start selling this to the public, at least yet. Instead, just 10,000 people have won the right to pay $1500 a pair for the gadget. Most of them earned this privilege by telling the Google the creative things they'd like to do with Glass.

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I've got a list of about 30 or 40 ideas.

GREENE: Dan McLaughlin picked his up yesterday. Monica Wilkinson says that for her getting Glass feels a little bit like getting a super power.

MONICA WILKINSON: I have always, like, wanted a computer in my head basically. So this is like the first step.

HENN: She plans to build an app to help her remember people's names at parties. Dan McLaughlin wants to build a teleprompter. I pulled his wife Lisa aside. I have a way you could use this. So you could put him on a Google hangout while you are relaxing and guide him through housework.

LISA MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, my gosh. You've planted an idea.

HENN: But before I can break up the McLaughlin's marriage, Sergey Brin walks up. He's Google's co-founder . So I ask him - nicely - what a lot of people have asked me. Is Glass kind of creepy? Will this technology push us irreversibly closer to a total surveillance society?

SERGEY BRIN: It's definitely something we think about. I mean, one thing is there are thousand products on the market that would be far better for surreptitious recording than this would be. I mean, there are things that look like shirt buttons. And we have also tried to design the experience so that it is clear what you are doing.

HENN: To take a photo you say: Take a photo. And the little display above your eye lights up for all to see.

BRIN: It's really a device that wants to be outdoors, wants to be outside, wants to be with family and friends. Yeah, I just found it so liberating.

HENN: But mostly, Sergey Brin says he's eager to see what thousands of creative people will do with it. Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.