Pictures and Vision by Robin Sloan, May 2012
the titanic showdown between Facebook and Google might not be the News Feed vs. Google+ after all. It might be Facebook Camera vs. Project Glass.
It might, in fact, be pictures vs. vision.
Facebook is the world’s largest photo-sharing site. Google’s new Project Glass augmented-reality specs are about sharing your vision.
Google is getting good, really good, at building things that see the world around them and actually understand what they’re seeing.
In this context, Google+ is not the company’s most strategic project. That distinction goes to Glass, to the self-driving cars, and to Google Maps, Street View, and Earth: Google’s detailed model of the real, physical world.
Maybe in twenty years we’ll think of Google primarily as a vision company—augmenting our vision, helping us share it—and, oh wow, did you realize they once, long ago, sold ads?
I am absolutely not going to mention the N** A******** here
What I like about Sloan’s piece is that it suggests an inversion of what Google Goggles is about. The usual approach has been to think about the glasses as an extra screen where Google can project information - augmented reality, but also omnipresent ads. Glasses as a means to serve more Google Stuff.
But what if Glasses are about looking over showing? What if they’re more observant than instructive? What if they’re about what you see? What if they put the user’s vision first? …& take all that the user sees and do a fuckton of processing up in the cloud and then use it for recommendations on all the other screens and devices where we’re more amenable to ads and suggestions rather than bombarding a thousand advertisements millimetres from our corneas…
…What if Google Glasses are more a camera than a display? It’s a much less aggressive user experience - feeling like one that’s built around you, the user, that helps you share moments in how you see the world (witness that second photo up top).
And that is a really fundamental human drive: this is how I see the world. This is who I am. Understand me. Sharing moments of vision is sharing a really personal kind of connection. Currently that’s mediated by cameras/phones - what if it comes from a device a centimetre from your eyeball, and what if viewers can see those images on a screen a centimetre away from their eyeballs?
Step closer to getting inside each others’ minds, innit.
[Vannevar Bush] imagined a system he called the “memex”, short for “memory extender”. If there was a more eerily prescient piece of prose, fiction or otherwise, written in the first half the 20th Century, I don’t know it.
This article is remembered most often, today, for having first envisioned what we call the principle of “hyperlinking”, a means of connecting disparate but conceptually involved units of data. But I’ve never read it that way, myself. I think Vannevar Bush envisioned the cyborg, in the sense I’ve been suggesting we most valuably use that word.
One remarkable thing about this is that he seemed to have no particular idea that electronics would have anything to do with it. He begins by imagining an engineer, a technocrat figure, equipped with a “walnut-sized” (his phrase) camera, which is strapped to the center of his forehead, it’s shutter operated by a hand-held remote. The technocrat’s glasses are engraved with crosshairs. If he can see it, he can photograph it.
Bush imagines this as a sort of pre-Polaroid microfilm device, “dry photography” he calls it, and he imagines his technocrat snapping away at project-sites, blueprints, documents, as he works.
He then imagines the memex itself, a desk (oak, he actually suggests, reminding me of my television set in 1952) with frosted glass screens inset in its top, on which the user can call up those images previously snapped with that forehead-walnut. Also in the desk are all of the user’s papers, business records, etc., all stored as instantly retrievable microfiche, plus the contents of whole specialized libraries.
At this point, Bush introduces the idea which earns him his place in conventional histories of computing: the idea of somehow marking “trails” through the data, a way of navigating, of being able to backtrack. The hyperlink idea.
But what I see, when I look at Bush’s engineer, with his Polaroid walnut and his frosted-glass, oak-framed desktop, is the cyborg. In both senses. A creature of Augmented rather than Virtual Reality. He is…us!