Google’s “Project Glass,” is the Augmented Reality (AR) Heads-up-Display (HUD) glasses offering that Google is designing for a near future Internet interactive experience.

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(Video credit: Google)

From watching their demonstration video, I certainly have some questions and observations. Google’s vision (no pun intended) of the future is a place where people ignore women except as witnesses to their achievements, talk with their mouth full, and put their live friends on hold to interact with a machine (oh wait, that’s what people do now); and is one without ads (wait…what?). Thankfully, rebelliouspixels mixed them in:

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(Video Credit: Google + rebelliouspixels)

As I wrote earlier in Connected cAR: Becoming the Cyborg Chauffeur, if Google has their way, we are about to be overwhelmed with synchronous (connecting in real time) and asynchronous (connecting in shifted time) messaging and communication while we walk.

If you’d like to read that piece, I’ll wait.

Not much difference. This time, the idea is that the Augmented Reality (AR) driven multiple input information will be applicable to everyone, not just those behind the wheel of cars. In the Connected cAR, the conculsion was that we were the intermediaries training the robots to drive. This time, we won’t be training the robots to walk for us. It’s more that our usage of Project Glass glasses will be training Google’s AI to learn about the world. This AI is still for the robots, but mostly likely for Google’s robots which aren’t here…yet.

Applin and Fischer’s (2012) recent paper, PolySocial Reality: Prospects for Extending User Capabilities Beyond Mixed, Dual and Blended Reality, discusses the evolution of software development and how the mobile-local-social-geo-web has changed the game with regard to human interaction and participation.  PolySocial Reality (PoSR) is described as a conceptual model of the space that contains individuals’ multiplexed, synchronous and asynchronous individuated data creations. An instance of PoSR might contain behaviors such as walking while talking on a phone, while texting, while the phone checks into foursquare, and sends an update via Twitter and/or Facebook, while replying to incoming friends’ status update and/or other messages at the same time. Each instance of PoSR can contain a lot of action, which can cause distraction, and people may or may not be walking or (we hope not) driving while all this is happening. Because the actions of individuals may overlap, if true, the potential for distraction in each case compounds.

Applin and Fischer suggest that there are cases for historical software development and that we are moving from a homogenous model of having “one user, one machine,” or “one type of user, many machines,” towards a heterogenous model of “many users (all different) and many machines (also all different).” Google’s “Project Glass” in the video is shown as a case of “one user, one machine” in the video, but the actual reality of using the glasses likely will hover around being geared towards that of “many homogenous users, many machines” and when fully deployed, most likely a case of “many heterogenous users, many heterogenous machines” where there is fully functioning PoSR that becomes disruptive. In this last instance, designers and developers of programs must take into account a number of factors including the fact that:

“Details about the context of others are missing and my be difficult for individual users to infer or [contain] details that cannot be inferred; Highly complex elements of differentiated environments are combined into structures that appear different from each users’ point-of-view; and Users as distributed dynamic unique agents.”

This means that people in the Google Project Glass glasses bubble are going to be having some serious navigation problems.

When someone is walking down the street using a cell phone or, as the Google video illustrates, a cell phone like device, the negative consequences from instances of PoSR can become even more problematic. The 2009 study, “Did You See the Unicycling Clown? Inattentional Blindness while Walking and Talking on a Cell Phone”, (Hyman, Boss, Wise et al. 2009) examined the effects of walking while engaged with music players, cell phones or walking with others in a pair. The results showed that cell phone usage might cause an “inattentional blindness” even during an activity such as walking. Cell phone users were found to be less likely to notice something different on a normally travelled path when engaged with their phones. The study found that individuals while talking on a cell phone “experienced more difficulty navigating through a complex environment….walked slower, weaved more often, and made more direction changes.” The observed individuals who were engaged in cell phone conversations for the most part missed seeing a clown riding a unicycle in their immediate vicinity.

I’m going to write that again:

“The observed individuals who were engaged in cell phone conversations for the most part missed seeing a clown riding a unicycle in their immediate vicinity.”

This example illustrates problems for individual people engaged with cell phones conducting regular conversation. The Google Project Glass demo seemed to show simple cases of simple interaction in a nearly synchronous environment. The reality of today’s messaging is much more along the lines of multiple instances of PoSR, hovering more into the asynchronous rather than synchronous messaging category. This means more messages, more responses and less attention to the “unicycling clowns” on our paths and in our lives.

In short, while the idea of getting our attention away from looking down at a device, to looking at the world, when the phone is on our ear, the research still suggests that we have cognitive problems that keep us from acknowledging or understanding or even seeing events in our immediate proximity. If we multiply that by the aggregate of people wearing Google Project Glass glasses, I fear we are in for a bumpy ride.

This response to the Google demo pretty much sums it up:

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(Video Credit:

Sally Applin is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, in the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing (CSAC). Sally researches the impact of technology on culture, and vice versa.