Technology is now an integral part of our society and frequently dictates the way in which we interact and experience reality. We frequently view reality and connect with one another through technological devices such as cameras, phones, or computers. While these technological forms give us the opportunity to enhance our human capabilities and move them beyond the limitations of our physical organic bodies, they simultaneously give us the illusion that we are boundless, limitless, and capable of things beyond our own human capacity. As a result, the line between organic human entity and technological extension is becoming blurred, and soon we may find that we are losing our ability to distinguish human from machine altogether.
Yet, we have a choice: We can choose to view these technological advancements as an eventual threat to our humanity, or we can see them as devices that help us become more human. As long as we maintain a strong humanistic perspective in the midst of technological advancement, and acknowledge that these technologies are extensions of us and not the reverse, our humanity will always prevail.
Google Glass exemplifies how our present technological climate has enabled us to not only extend our physical selves, but our mental ones as well. While this opens up immense opportunities for people and provides extensive benefits for the human race, it also has many potential negative implications and runs the risk of manifesting fears of a cyborg culture as reality.
Google Glass is a wearable computer with a head-mounting display. It displays information in a smart-phone-like hands-free format that can interact with the Internet via language voice commands.
This device takes experiencing reality through a technological medium to a new level. Google Glass is an external technological tool since it comes in the form of glasses that are used externally on the body. However, it is only a matter of time before Google Glass-type devices take the form of mechanisms that are physically incorporated into our bodies much in the same manner as glasses evolved into contact lenses.
Google Glass functions by providing information and assistance to the user based on things in the environment. For example, if the user is looking at a picture of art, they can ask for information about the art piece (i.e. date created, painter, location etc.), and Google Glass will promptly provide this information, which is instantly made visible in the eyes of the viewer.
It also acts as a hands-free mobile device and camera. If the user wants to call someone, send a text message, or take a picture, they can say something like "call home," "text hello," or "take picture," and Google Glass will carry out the action for the user.
Google Glass may be the beginning of the final stage before intake and synthesis of information is done within our own bodies, making "cyborg anxiety" a much more tangible fear.
This type of device eliminates the need for any physical effort or exertion from the user. For example, the user does not need to spend time physically pressing buttons to call, text, or take a picture/video because this action is carried out by the technology inside the glasses. In this context, Google Glass is extending our human physical abilities and it is easy to see how a human being could easily become dependent upon this technology, leading to a deterioration of simple human physical actions. Actions such as dialing would be obviated, which could possibly lead to a sense of indolence in all aspects of life.
Additionally, since the glasses are powered by the search-engine Google, we as users can easily access information from the worldwide web, extending our mental capabilities and providing instant information to us about basically anything we wish to know. Since information is already readily available to us at our will, this ease of access may cause us to become ambivalent about what we generate versus what is generated for us. We may fall victim to an illusion that this information is somehow already stored inside our brains, and discount the fact that it is actually being given to us by a machine. Google Glass could thus give us the false sense that we have superhuman capabilities like being omniscient; when in reality, we are limited by the information that we have learned and the glasses are merely enhancing and extending our knowledge via a technological medium.
Another implication of the glasses is the fact that we may no longer feel the need to educate ourselves. Why would we spend the time learning things when we can simply wear the glasses and have the information provided to us instantly whenever we want? In this sense, Google Glass may be nullifying our human intelligence and replacing it with technology. It replaces the drive to learn and research with immediate results. People may no longer feel the need to learn languages because with Google Glass, you can instantly translate your voice and that of others.
Devices such as Google Glass will replace many aspects of humanity and may even remove motivations to work, learn, and carry out various actions. When we make the decision to use such devices, we are entering into an unspoken contract with the company Google ensuring that the information provided by the device is accurate and true. We are putting our trust in this device, (and therefore the company), and allowing the device to more or less act as our external brain, shaping and influencing our knowledge. Yet technology is not perfect, and thus there are many possibilities for mistakes and glitches to occur during the process of obtaining and transferring information. The information given to the us may occasionally be incorrect which leaves us misinformed, resulting in many negative consequences (which is already the case with our dependency on Wikipedia).
Not only does Google Glass present potential problems relating to a human's perception, awareness, and understanding of their abilities, it also raises many economic and legal issues for global society.
Google Glass enables us to document our environment without any indication or signal that this documentation is occurring. So for those of you who hate getting your picture taken, someone may be snapping a photo of you without your consent.
Google Glass will soon also be incorporating face recognition into its software. If you see a stranger walking down the street, you could instantly be able to obtain all the information about them that is available on the web. This would drastically transform our everyday human interactions, and would introduce the issue of invasion of privacy into our interpersonal relationships.
There is also a concern that technology such as Google Glass can create a class divide, and increase economic separation. Although it can be argued that any form of technology that is expensive would make the gap between classes more apparent, this divide is amplified even more since Google Glass involves the obtainment of information. In the case of Google Glass, we not only have a situation in which people who are economically disadvantaged or do not have access to the same resources are simply left out of the interconnectivity of technology; we have a situation in which people who cannot afford devices such as Google Glass will not have access to the same knowledge and information. Those who can afford these technologies will have the upper in hand in that they can easily access information and participate in the "superhuman", whereas those who cannot afford these technologies will have to continue educating themselves and will remain confined by their "mortal" human abilities.
Despite all of the negative implications of Google Glass, however, I still believe there is a positive side to devices such as Google Glass -- and cyborgs in general. Cyborg anthropologist, Amber Case (who spoke at the TED conference in 2010), argues that the current "technological humanity" in which we live can actually be considered as a new stage in humanity, just as we once progressed from Neanderthals to Homo Sapiens. Case explains how technology can be considered a new species, and argues that we exist in a symbiotic relationship with this techno-species. We have been using tools to help us extend our physical selves since the early stages of humanity. We used spears to catch food, wood to make fires, and stone to protect ourselves. We have now evolved and entered a new stage in our humanity -- and our tools have evolved with us, allowing us to extend both our physical and mental capabilities. Technology is a tool that we have created in order to make us more human. It is a tool we have power over and we are constantly constructing and reconstructing it in ways that allow us to reach our highest potential as humans. Technology does not control us, we control it, and it can actually be a unifying force for humanity, not a divider.
We are currently on an exponential track of technological advancement. Soon, technology may be able to replicate many human emotions, even pain. Just like in science fiction movies, the obvious distinction between what is machine and what is organism may become harder to find as external devices such as Google Glass become physically integrated into our bodies.
So where does that leave us in regards to our true humanity? In the midst of constant technological advancement, the key to preventing us from being lost in the illusion of the superhuman, or losing our understanding of true humanity, is our perspective and own personal awareness. If we take Case's approach and see technology as our ally, viewing it as a tool that we have designed for ourselves rather than our enemy, then our humanity will prevail. We must look at devices such as Google Glass not as a desperate attempt to become superhuman, but instead, as an attempt to reach our full potential as humans, connect us in new ways, and ultimately gain a deeper understanding of one another