Augmented Reality Is Here, and It's Right on Your Face

There are some technological developments that come as a complete surprise, and some that are logical extrapolations of what we've had for a while, so obvious that we know we'll eventually get them, it's just a matter of the development of the necessary components. A wearable augmented reality device falls into the latter category. For years, we've been seeing sci-fi movies in which a character looks out at the world, or at a person, and sees a whole bunch of information pop up in front of his eyes (the best-known example is probably The Terminator, which came out in all the way back in 1984).

But as of now, you can actually get one. Well, maybe not you specifically, but somebody. Google Glass, which is essentially a smartphone in the shape of a pair of glasses that are, depending on your perspective, totally cool-looking or remarkably dorky, is going on sale. You won't be able to go down to Target and buy a pair, though; for this first run, you have to actually apply to Google, and if they decide you're cool enough to own one, they'll allow you to pay them $1,500 and you can start living your augmented life. Here's the ad they've released:

All that skydiving and trapeze flying and balloon riding makes me wonder how Google Glass would fit into my rather less aerial lifestyle, consisting as it does mostly of sitting in front of a computer. Speaking of which, if you're looking at Google on your computer through your Google Glass, do you risk getting sucked into some endlessly recursive vortex of space-time from which you can never escape? But you'd better be cool if you're going to wear them; just look at the beautiful young hipster-types in this photo spread, happily wearing their Glasses in what looks to be some undiscovered and fashionably grungy corner of Brooklyn.

OK, that's the end of my snark. But seriously, one of the consequences of this being a technology we've all expected for a while is that its first iteration inevitably looks like a clunky preliminary version of what it will eventually be. We're spoiled by how small electronics have gotten, so the fact that the glasses need to have a rectangular hunk of plastic on one arm that houses the components is a little disappointing. In 2013 we aren't able to make it all fit into the frame of a regular pair of glasses, though we will be eventually. And at some point, it will all fit into a contact lens, so no one even knows you're augmenting.

As a consumer product, this may take a while to catch on, particularly until the price comes down. And the impulse to use it to push ads at people is going to be very strong, which would turn a lot of potential adopters off. I could see how at first, something like Google Glass (and its inevitable competitors) could find a market as a specialized work tool–for firefighters, for instance, or soldiers. In fact, the German military is planning to equip its soldiers in Afghanistan with a system including a heads-up display later this year.

I could be wrong, but I have little doubt that eventually some version of this technology will be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today. It may not happen for ten or twenty years, but it'll happen. And as it grows, people will find all kinds of uses for it that we can't even contemplate today.

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