Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction classic Jurassic Park is being remade this year. Just like the original, this film also deals with a very sinister technology and the violence that it precipitates. Larry Page, the founder and CEO of a dystopian global corporation, has created a theme park called Googleplex in California. When the face computer they have created there called ‘Google Glass’ escapes into adjacent San Francisco, violence ensues as the ‘Glass Explorers’ or ‘Glassholes’ are violently assaulted in bars and on the streets and as their face computers are ripped off from their faces and smashed on the side walks. Experts brought in by the company to assess the damage are dumbfounded by the carnage and tell the CEO ‘your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should’.
The introduction of Google Glass has been a big PR exercise for Google. The Glass is even today not a finished product ready for the consumer market. Any other company would have beta-tested it using its own employees, or at the worst would have given away some units so normal people can test it. But Google is not any company. With the genius of Larry Page hard at work, Google devised what it called an ‘Glass Explorer’ program. Under it you had to go to the Glass website and register your name and beg Google to make you one of the anointed ones. If you were lucky, Google gave you the chance to ‘buy’ a Glass for $1,500 (around `90,000). Those who thus bought glass called themselves ‘Explorers’ and went about their daily lives giving more free publicity to the technology and to the company in turn. The Google rip-off became even more evident when it emerged that it cost a mere $80 to manufacture.
It was not long before some of the ‘Explorers’ realised the limited use cases of the device, the privacy concerns others had and at its simplest, how stupid one looked wearing such a device on their face. It was not long before Glass was being called a ‘dystopian skull accessory’, and more damagingly, a ‘chastity belt for the face’. But it was only recently that the ‘exploring’ has turned into a dangerous adventure with the wearers being variously assaulted and called names.
Kyle Russell, a reporter for Business Insider, recently went through such an ordeal when walking down a sidewalk in the Mission District of San Francisco. A person approached him from behind, yelled ‘Glass’, grabbed the device from his face and ran away before smashing the Glass into the ground. In a piece describing the incident, Russell tries to find answers to why the incident happened and why people seem to be justifying whatever has happened. ‘At first, I failed to see the humour in what had happened…’ he writes, ‘Why were people laughing at my misfortune or implying I somehow deserved it?’
The problem is not with Russel. It is with Google itself, a company run by engineers for whom coming up with new technology is more important than its implications. As Sam Biddle at Valley Wag says, “Google has a fundamental inability to understand human emotions, insecurities, and nuances in general.” That inability is what is most frightening about Google. The company that will soon have all the world’s information.
Matham is a tech geek. Follow him on Twitter @AdarshMatham