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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

dixe.jpg

Like everyone else of my generation, I have classroom memories of being asked to predict what life would be like in the year 2000. I stood up and foretold the advent of personal jet packs, colonies on the moon and meals replaced by a single pill. This was heady stuff, I can tell you, on that hot summer afternoon back in 1998.

What I didn't see coming (in mitigation, I don't recall anyone asking me for my thoughts re 2013) was Google Glass (google.com/glass/start). For the uninitiated, these are computerised spectacle frames (I suspect that's not the term the thrusting types at Google use) incorporating a tiny screen. Imagine a pair of glasses with what looks like a see-through USB stick over the right eye and you're about there.

The glasses are voice-activated so - in the manner of an Abracadabra - you can intone, 'OK, Glass, take a picture,' and a photo of whatever you are looking at is instantly snapped. On the command 'share', the glasses will magically send the pic to the lucky recipient of your choice. You can also use Glass to surf the web, send messages, make instant translations and record video. Or at least you will be able to when they're on the market - at the moment the only owners are volunteers who applied to test them for Google.

So far, so Tomorrow's World, with the big question posed in gadget-loving circles being, 'Why is Google bringing out a product that makes its wearers look like a race of aliens in a Dr Who episode from the days when a chalk pit in Surrey stood in for a different planet every week?'

However, as Mark Hurst, the president of Creative Good (creativegood.com - 'the world's first online customer experience firm') points out, the real question we should be asking is about 'the experience - not of the user, but of everyone other than the user'.

Imagine this for a moment - you're in a café talking to someone wearing Google Glass. Are they videoing you? You won't know. Or you're in a doctors' waiting room and a Glass-wearer looks across at you. Are they recording you? You won't know. Furthermore, the video streams directly onto a Google server where it is lodged in perpetuity. If Glass takes off, we face the prospect of millions of users providing Google with countless hours of material, especially if future versions of the product come with the video function always on. As Hurst notes, the folk at Google could then use speech-to-text software to create a transcript of these recordings and team it up with their facial-recognition software to put an identity to speakers.

In theory, Google could thus establish a highly saleable searchable database of whatever Glass has captured you or I saying on any subject - a mouth-watering prospect for security services and employers alike. Of course, this might not happen. They wouldn't really do that, would they? Not Google.