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Google Glass and the 21st Century Panopticon

If you’re like me, you watched the product demo for Google Glass, found its hipster-targeting — learning about a new band from a street poster? — silly and didn’t think too much more about it.

I mean, don’t we need to find a way to interact with our personal computing devices less, not more?

But this morning after reading Jon Evans’ TechCrunch piece, “Heads Up! This Was Google’s Apple Moment,” I’m changing my mind. As a product category, Google Glass has a lot of potential — potential that’s fascinating and scary. In the fascinating category are some immediate uses for all of us, like when we travel. Imagine wearing one of these while you’re navigating a foreign city, for example. An even better use is for the elderly, especially those suffering early-stage memory loss. I can imagine applications that would simplify the navigation of the outside world tremendously for such people.

But Evans identifies the augmented data use that convinces me now that this will become a reality: law enforcement. Remember Robocop? Welcome to the 21st century panopticon.

From Evans’ piece:

Imagine a heads-up display that automatically parses every license plate and recognizes every face in sight, and tells the wearer about any outstanding warrants. Charles Stross has been predicting this for years: “Police in the UK are already experimenting with real time video recording of interactions with the public – I suspect that before long we’re going to see cops required to run lifelogging apps constantly when on duty, with the output locked down as evidence.” In places where the integrity of the police is questionable–which is to say, most of the world–this could help stamp out corruption, too.

Of course, this will lead to an enormous spike in the amount of video data in the world that needs to be tagged, categorized, sifted, and mined. If only there was a company out there that was really, really good at search…

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