Google's AR Glasses Actually Look Pretty Rad…

But the privacy issues are off the charts

  • Google’s AR glasses translate and transcribe speech in real-time. 
  • These specs are still only a concept. 
  • How do you feel about everything you say being recorded, all the time?
Someone wearing the Google AR Glasses.

Google

Google’s new augmented reality glasses might still be a concept, but they finally demonstrate the point of AR. 

The thick plastic frames look pretty cool, and they have one killer feature: real-time transcription, and translation, of the world around you. Instead of trying to be an all-purpose computer, like a cellphone, and squeeze every possible function into a wearable device, these AR Translation glasses are focused on one task. The reality of battery life and connectivity might take a while to catch up, and privacy-wise, these are a nightmare, but the core premise is excellent and easy to understand. 

"Many of the things that are currently legal in the digital age should not be," Marco Bellin, CEO of digital privacy company Datacappy told Lifewire via email. "Laws to protect people are far behind the technology that we are creating. In many states, it's not illegal to record a conversation you're having with another individual without their consent. The way current laws are crafted, it will be nearly impossible for people to protect their speech from audio recording without their consent."

One Thing Right

If you could go back in time to the 1990s, there’s no way you’d convince anyone that we’d all be carrying expensive, powerful pocket computers with us at all times. But they sneaked in thanks to one killer feature—communication.

We already loved cell phones because they helped us communicate with anyone, any time. Smartphones piggy-backed on the cellphone, largely by offering even better communication. We could send photos, have video chats, and so on. This is how we managed to get computers into the pockets of grandparents as well as nerdy early adopters. 

Now, Google is doing the same thing with AR glasses, only this time it isn’t expanding the distances over which we can communicate—it’s breaking the language barrier.

Talkies

Technically, there may still be a way to go, but the concept of these AR Translation glasses is that they listen to the world around you, grab speech, and transcribe or translate it. The words are then overlaid on your view of the world in the glasses’ heads-up-display (HUD). 

Let’s imagine some of the possible scenarios. Deaf people can get real-time transcriptions, which, combined with what their hearing aids may provide, could boost ease of understanding. 

Someone wearing Google AR Glasses and viewing translation as it's happening.

Google

Or, if you're on vacation, you could more easily communicate in restaurants and stores, for example, although if the waiter isn’t wearing glasses, you’ll still have to shout loud in English and make hand signals.

Or what if your extended family has a different mother tongue than you? Now you can understand everything they say. 

These examples show one of the biggest shortcomings of this application of AR—it’s all one way. Then again, sending messages and doing video chats only work if both parties have the necessary gear. And this is exactly why Google’s focus on translation is genius—it really could drive sales. On the other hand, translation and transcription are still a small niche compared to being able to talk to your family and see photos of your grandchildren.

Perhaps the smartphone explosion was an anomaly and not a precedent. Maybe the entire world doesn’t need another general-purpose computing device the way we feel we need a phone. Even Apple’s Watch, which started out as a mini version of a phone, became a more focused fitness tracker and notification device. 

The way current laws are crafted, it will be nearly impossible for people to protect their speech from audio recording without their consent.

Privacy Nightmare

On top of this, we have obvious privacy issues. Even if all transcription is carried out on the device, the glasses are still microphones that are always listening.

"Google's new AR glasses could implant commercialized surveillance devices amongst an unsuspecting public, listening and learning not only about the primary user, but also anyone they interact with," attorney and privacy advocate Cheyenne Hunt-Majer told Lifewire via email. "Unfortunately, under our outdated set of tech regulations, this kind of mass surveillance is likely to be entirely legal."

Privacy has been one of the biggest casualties of the Information Age, and without some serious regulation, it’s only going to worsen. These glasses are totally rad, but that doesn’t justify the massive surveillance network they enable. Google surely wants to extend its reach out from the web and into the real world to better profile users and target ads. But that doesn’t mean this technology is inevitable. The first Google Glass failed as a consumer product. This one might too.

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