The future is right in front of our eyes. For a generation schooled in technology by the Mission: Impossible movies, these are tantalizing times. For Google has released a video demonstrating its new big idea – spectacles that act as a computer screen that responds to voice commands.
How cool is that? You can go round giving instructions to your Google-glasses and get a response in front of your eyeballs. (This, incidentally, is quite disconcerting; bluetooth technology is already making it harder to spot lunatics on the street. Time was when muttering audibly to a disembodied presence or pair of spectacles would be considered prima facie evidence of diminished responsibility, but no more). In the future, men will not only make passes at girls who wear glasses, they will already have searched up all their details and be reading them off the screen. Over time this will become increasingly sophisticated, so the specs will not only pull the girl's details but offer helpful advice like "forget it speccy, she's out of your league."
Naturally, on the demonstration video the specs work beautifully. They are a tad retro in appearance and make the wearer look like that blind crew member with a visor from Star Trek: Next Generation. But let's not quibble; it's nothing a tie-up with Giorgio Armani won't solve. In the demo we see a man walking in New York, the glasses tell him that the subway station is closed and helpfully offer an alternative route. Seeing an image he likes, he orders the specs to take a photo with the built-in camera and post it on his Google+ page. He can read text messages and film a view to share in a call with his girlfriend.
Sounds idyllic, doesn't it. But I can detect certain flaws, beyond the risk of constantly walking into things. There's that handy mapping facility, which harsh experience suggests will offer precise directions to a point roughly two streets away from the desired destination. To be fair, you can see their uses, like sightseeing when abroad and proving Jon Voight is, in fact, still alive though he'll self-destruct in five seconds.
So it looks cool. But when you boil it down – and consider the small screen size (unless the Elton John look circa 1970 is your thing) – this is essentially for people who are tired of the draining effort that is lifting their handheld; it is the answer for everyone who has dreamed of wearing their smartphone. It is for people troubled by the interface that we technologists like to call the real world, who can now filter life through a screen wherever they are. And all the while, Google will be gathering more and more data on your life. With Google specs you need never be without a sponsored link advising you of the proximity of the nearest Starbucks. "Hey, you're just 20 steps from a mediocre cup of coffee." There are options for digital trickery too – who wouldn't want their reality augmented by a foaming latte leaping out as they neared the café. The specs will also prove useful for those people always committing the faux pas of checking their BlackBerry during dinner as the conversation lags. Now you can surf the web and still keep one eye on your dinner partner. Your date will no longer think you are rude – although she may be curious about your misaligned eye and why you keep changing the subject.
This is just the start of course; contact lenses are surely next or, as a low-cost alternative, a small fold-up screen implanted in the middle of your forehead and disguised as a Hindu bindi.
This cynicism may be misplaced. I mentioned the idea to a key youth demographic over breakfast the other day. Back came the reply, "That's epic Dad, can I have one for my birthday?" The target market, it seems, needs no persuasion.