The photo accompanying this post shows me with Google Glass, a wearable computing device. UNC has a pair and I’m testing them for a couple days to help me think about whether such devices might be useful for us or for the government officials with whom we work. This post summarizes my initial impressions.
What’s Google Glass? Wikipedia says that “Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display. . . . Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format, that can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands.” To be a bit more specific, Glass links with your smartphone by Bluetooth, and allows you to do things like take pictures, take videos, post them to social media, receive text messages, receive emails, and search the web, all without taking your phone out of your pocket. It also serves as a regular Bluetooth headset for handling phone calls and playing music. Navigation takes place by voice command and a small touchpad on the frame of the device. The display is essentially a tiny screen that is visible to your right eye.
Uses for officers. Several police departments are experimenting with Google Glass, as I noted in a previous post about Glass. It’s easy to see potential applications for officers, from recording interviews and traffic stops, to documenting crime scenes, to receiving real time information from other officers or from dispatch without having to pull out a phone or use a loud radio. This article quotes an officer who thinks that having Glass available will make officers safer and more productive because “a big thing for police is to always have your hands free and available.” Glass can also provide navigation information to officers who are on foot or bicycle and away from a car-based GPS. Future uses might include facial recognition of suspects and instant criminal record checks. Ten years from now, I expect all officers to be wearing something like Glass.
Uses for lawyers. The applications for lawyers are less obvious but potentially still significant. Here are a few ideas:
- Witness interviews. Suppose a lawyer interviews a witness, and the witness has valuable information that the lawyer wants to memorialize. With Glass, it’s easy to record a video of all or part of the interview.
- Feeding the social media beast. It is easy to take a picture using Glass and to post it on Twitter or Facebook using voice commands. A lawyer might use Glass to take a picture of the courthouse where he or she is trying a case that day, or of a happy client after a good outcome, and then make the image a part of his or her social media marketing. It may be only incrementally faster than using a smartphone to do the same task, but sometimes a few seconds are the difference between doing something and not doing it.
- Intraoffice communication. Lawyers working in teams could communicate with one another using Glass. If lawyer A has a question that he or she wants to suggest that lawyer B pose to a witness, lawyer A could send the question as a text message that would appear on lawyer B’s Glass, rather than interrupting lawyer B’s examination. Similarly, lawyers who spend most of the day away from the office might appreciate receiving text messages or emails through Glass from their support staff about new clients, important phone calls, and the like, rather than constantly checking their smartphone for that information.
- Notes without a note pad. Lawyers make a lot of presentations, whether to clients, to judges, to juries, or to community groups. Typically, we write our notes on yellow legal pads, or perhaps type them on an iPad. But if they were on Glass they would be readily available without ever having to look down.
Uses for professors. Part of the reason I’ve been allowed to use Glass is to help me think about whether the technology has any application for me and my colleagues. Mostly, I don’t think so, but there are a few circumstances in which Glass could be useful. There’s the presentation notes function I just mentioned. And there’s the possibility of having students ask questions during a class by text message. A student who is shy about talking in class or worried that his or her question is a bad one may be willing to send a text message that the instructor can choose to address or to ignore.
Uses for criminals. Although it wasn’t part of my assignment, it occurred to me that Glass might be helpful for certain criminals. As I handed my credit card to a store clerk while wearing Glass, I realized that when wearable computers become unremarkable, it will be easy for the unscrupulous to use them to take photographs of others’ credit cards, or videos of others entering their PIN numbers at ATMs. Of course, Glass also creates crime-fighting opportunities as citizens can more quickly and easily record video of criminal activity.
Other user notes. There are lots of reviews of Glass available online from folks who are more sophisticated than I am, but I’ll share a few quick impressions for those who are interested.
- It doesn’t play very well with the iPhone. For example, text messages received by an iPhone won’t display on Glass. And what everyone says is the coolest part of using Glass – Google Now, which displays information to you unprompted, as you need it, like the weather forecast in the morning or good nearby restaurants around lunchtime – isn’t built into iPhones.
- It’s built for Gmail. Email from other providers, whether Yahoo! or Microsoft Outlook, won’t show up on Glass, at least the current version.
- The battery life is poor. As one reviewer put it, the battery is “too big, yet it’s not big enough for a full day’s charge.” Plus, because it connects to your phone by Bluetooth when you’re not on WiFi, it is hard on your phone’s battery too.
- It shouldn’t be worn in some places. Entering a public restroom wearing Glass is awkward at best. But it isn’t just bathrooms. A Wired writer notes, “I’m never sure where [Glass is] welcome. I’m not wearing my $1,500 face computer on public transit where there’s a good chance it might be yanked from my face. I won’t wear it out to dinner, because it seems as rude as holding a phone in my hand during a meal. I won’t wear it to a bar. I won’t wear it to a movie. I can’t wear it to the playground or my kid’s school because sometimes it scares children.”
Overall, the current version of Glass is not incredibly useful, at least for me. But I think something like Glass will quickly become standard issue for officers, and as its capabilities expand, will become as indispensable to many professionals as smartphones are today. In short, it feels like the future.
As always, I welcome others’ thoughts on how Glass or other wearable computers might be relevant to those involved in the criminal justice system.