Code Watch: Welcome to the Panopticon
May 20, 2013 —
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Related Search Term(s): Google
I know two people who have Google Glasses, the new wearable computer from the company that used to be interested in search. One is a friend and the other a work colleague, and they both were awarded their eyewear by virtue of writing popular blogs. They won't be the last people, I know; the triumph of the gaze-screen is inevitable.
Although most of the attention paid to Google Glasses has focused on the bad science-fiction movie appearance of this first-generation hardware, it's only a matter of design to put these lenses the size of quinoa grains into fashionable frames and hide the reflective prism behind some tinting.
At the recent Google I/O Conference in San Francisco, Google demonstrated the quality of their latest facial-recognition technology. Google Glass is the most well-known hardware, but there are already competitors, and as soon as people see a demo of a "Name Reminder" app for the heads-up display, it's all over. What's the embarrassment of looking like a Borg compared to the universal dread of talking to someone whose name you really, really ought to know?
At first there will be resistance: Some bars have already instituted a "no Glass" rule. The first person who forgets themselves and absently gazes at a child for too long is going to get punched in the nose. As for bathrooms, can we all agree on a zero-tolerance protocol?
Regrettably, bad people already have access to surreptitious devices and plan their activities elaborately. Or, at least, some do. The younger of the Tsarnaev brothers wore his baseball cap backwards on his way to the Boston Marathon bombings. Perhaps at the trial we will learn if he never expected to escape, never expected to be caught, or simply didn't think about being photographed, but the immediate aftermath of the bombings showed one of the less commendable consequences of a hyper-connected world: the rapidity with which a fringe theory can be amplified.
On Reddit, what seemed like a commendable use of the axiom "many eyes make all bugs shallow," gave rise to two ideas: one that singled out two young fellows carrying duffel bags, and another that focused on some guys wearing what looked like tactical gear. In both cases, preconceived notions of responsibility were projected onto photos and various pieces of circumstantial "evidence": "analysis" of eye gazes, "Where'd the backpack go?!" scrawls, collages with red circles and lines worthy of the best cop-show corkboard. In one case, this led to a photo of innocent teenagers appearing in a New York newspaper under the accusatory headline of "Bag Men," and the other fueled the now-inevitable crackpot theory that the bombing was "another" false flag attack carried out by the international fascist shadow government.