Seven Urgent Ethical Dilemmas for Google Glass
By Avram Piltch, Laptop Mag
Every truly disruptive technological advance leads to its own set of ethics standards. Who worried about interrupting someone’s dinner or overpaying for psychic friends before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, or annoying family before texting took off?
Even with Google Glass available to just a few thousand people, society is already debating whether it’s OK to bring a wearable computer into a bar or to place one on your head while driving. As next-gen wearable computers provide augmented (aka “augmediated”) reality features that can add or subtract information from your view, even more questions arise as to how this technology should and shouldn’t be used. We asked some of the leading minds in ethics, computing and privacy to answer the stickiest moral problems the world will face when wearable tech is as ubiquitous as smartphones are today.
1. Should I be able to wear digital glasses everywhere I go?
A number of bars and casinos have already explicitly banned Google Glass due to privacy concerns. However, these same businesses wouldn’t dare to ban smartphones, all of which take photos and video, because everyone carries them. Should there really be no-Glass zones?
“People are surprising and don’t always end up acting rationally,” said Jules Polonetsky, executive director and co-chairman of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “Sometimes, the things you think are going to be intrusive end up being well accepted.” Polonetsky pointed out that technologies such as portable Kodak cameras and caller ID both sparked huge privacy concerns (Kodak cameras were banned in many public places) when they were introduced, but were quickly accepted.
“We need laws restricting the restrictions on digital eye glass,” said University of Toronto professor Steve Mann, who is widely considered the father of wearable computing and has been wearing his homemade “EyeTap” goggles for 30 years. Mann believes that his digital eyeglasses are part of him because they help him to perceive the world, similar to the way hearing aids and prescription lenses help others.
“Forbidding DEG (digital eyeglasses) is a much stronger affront to bodily integrity than merely forbidding regular prescription eyewear,” he writes in an upcoming op-ed in MIT Technology Review.
2. Can I record anything and everything I see?
Nobody stops you from remembering what you see, and if you have a photographic memory, you might as well be recording. However, because digital memory is much more accurate, being recorded makes a lot of people and institutions uncomfortable. Will we get used to being recorded by friends?
Randy Cohen, who started the New York Times Ethicist column and has written two books on ethics, said that recording your time walking around outside is fine, but capturing your interactions with other people is wrong, unless you explicitly tell them you’re filming.
“I think it’s wrong to do, and it’s some kind of deceit,” Cohen said when asked about recording conversations. “That’s what the ethics hinges on. Is it a kind of deceit? And I say yes, because the assumption that you’re not being recorded is so embedded in our social interactions.”