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A Modest Proposal: Google Glass Meets Tech Support

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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In the series “A Modest Proposal,” my colleagues and I will propose inventions and projects that I think are eminently doable and would love made real.

A powerful benefit of Glass from Google is how it could help people see what you see at the same time you are seeing it. I believe this could open up an extraordinary market of services based on helping other people out. Imagine being able to recruit aid from a seasoned expert, or a “mission control”-type room of experts, or just your friends? There are possibly also some tricky legal and criminal possibilities involved.

I brainstorm a number of ideas below, many of which I don’t actually see happening. Still, it’s fun to speculate.

* Tech support. Imagine you’re having difficulties with your computer. Instead of laboriously telling somebody the problem you’re experiencing, why not just show them?

Tech support via Glass can range anywhere from helping a parent to full-blown “Houston, we have a problem” Apollo-13-style critical system failures.

* Translation. Google emphasizes that you can ask Glass how to say something in another language. However, as of now, Glass apparently can’t help you translate foreign text. I can imagine Glass users contacting translation companies or crowdsourcing agencies such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk that can help you translate signs, documents and so on for a given fee, which might be really helpful in foreign countries.

* Emergencies. A bit along the lines of tech support, especially for Apollo-13-type situations, but with even broader implications. Warren Ellis had a comic book series I loved called Global Frequency that had a task force of agents scattered across the globe who could pool their expertise together via smartphones — I can imagine augmented reality headsets such as Glass serving as the next generation. Sci-fi author David Brin’s novel Existence has a scene where a main character recruits a giant pool of volunteers over the Internet to basically crowdsource a way to stop a disaster as well. Emergency services from the authorities might list places to seek aid or shelter. Really, you can imagine virtually any scene from an action movie or TV show where the heroes are given advice via cell phone or earpiece.

* Dating. I don’t think Glass will help much with dating, but I can’t help but think of Cyrano de Bergerac in this context, whispering romantic advice into your ear. (I don’t see people wearing Glass on dates — at least, not on successful dates — but who knows how things might change in the future? For the record, I think wearing Glass on a date would be at least as bad as checking your phone obviously and repeatedly.)

* Bomb disposal. A subset of emergencies. I doubt Glass will actually help much here — civilians should get the hell away from bombs, and I imagine bomb disposal experts already use cameras to look at bombs and ask others for help if need be. Still, putting it on the list.

* Shopping. Imagine asking a friend whether an outfit looks good on you, or a fashion expert. Shopping consultants might be able to carve out niches remotely providing extremely personalized recommendations.

* Military operations. The first exposure I had to the idea of military commanders following what soldiers were doing via camera was the movie Aliens. In real life, the Navy SEALS that killed Osama bin Laden may have wore helmet cameras, although there are conflicting accounts of whether this is true. I don’t actually see Glass being used in military operations for tech support types of purposes, but augmented reality has roots in military head-mounted displays and in general certainly may see use in the battlefield.

* Tour guides. Audio tours already exist for locations such as museums — why not have an expert or a team of experts tell you what you are looking, with an art professor helping you one moment and a history professor another, all using Glass and video-conferencing via Google Hangouts? I don’t see Glass putting tour guides out of work, since they do more than just telling people about sites, such as arranging accommodations and troubleshooting problems, but Glass might help add an interesting dimension.

* How to. There are now many sites that aim to explain how to do things, such as wikiHow, eHow and HowCast. I’m not sure if there will be many or any services offering experts that can help people how to, say, change a tire or bake a cake, but who knows?

* Science. It’d be interesting whether Glass could help science. For instance, one could hold a fossil up for others to examine, showing paleontologists what it looks like from each side.

* Medicine. I don’t see Glass really being used as a way for doctors to offer house calls to patients, since a medical examination often needs more than just a look to reveal anything. Still, it might be interesting if Glass could be used as a way for doctors to consult other doctors for help.

* Comedy. Imagine having a writer’s room of comedians helping you with jokes? I don’t really see this happening, but there was a lottery commercial that depicted the scenario:

* Porn. Ew. Well, porn finds a way to use the Internet in a vast amount of ways, and Glass will certainly find a way into that toolkit, I imagine.

This actually leads me to potential legal and criminal implications of this. What happens if what you show people gets misused in some way? For instance, might you inadvertently let burglars case your house for them? Also, what happens if you see something criminal happening while you are talking with someone over Glass? Are you liable if you don’t report anything, or liable if you do?

Charles Q. Choi About the Author: Charles Q. Choi is a frequent contributor to Scientific American. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Science, Nature, Wired, and LiveScience, among others. In his spare time, he has traveled to all seven continents. Follow on Twitter @cqchoi.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. DougAlder 12:19 am 05/7/2013

    Medicine – of course – you aren’t thinking broadly enough. Look at telemedicine today – say far north where doctors are scarce – a local nurse or first aid worker could use glass to get help and determine whether an emergency airlift required or not. Or how about in 3rd world countries where rural doctors are few and far between but cell networks are ubiquitous. Right now Glass is expensive – that won’t be the case in 5 years.

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