Monday, December 21, 2009

I Can See the Future

And in that future, some punk 5th grader will point his iPhone at the smart kid and an alarm will sound:
Nerd-alert! Nerd-alert!
The smart, awkward kid will turn red in the face. If he's lucky the teacher will come over to intervene, but the punk will immediately shift the blame.
"What? I didn't say it--Google Goggles did! And it's never wrong!"
Of course, it will be a customized Google Goggles, with various messages attached to pictures the punk takes of everybody he knows ("Well, Miranda, I don't know what to tell you, but it says you're the girl who's going to blow me in the back of the bus today..."), but the teacher doesn't need to know that.

What is Google Goggles, you ask? Well, it is this:
The world, like the World Wide Web before it, is about to be hyperlinked. Soon, you may be able to find information about almost any physical object with the click of a smartphone.

This vision, once the stuff of science fiction, took a significant step forward this month when Google unveiled a smartphone application called Goggles. It allows users to search the Web, not by typing or by speaking keywords, but by snapping an image with a cellphone and feeding it into Google’s search engine.

How tall is that mountain on the horizon? Snap and get the answer. Who is the artist behind this painting? Snap and find out. What about that stadium in front of you? Snap and see a schedule of future games there.

Goggles, in essence, offers the promise to bridge the gap between the physical world and the Web.


Although I can certainly see benefits to this application/database, if used to augment a normal education/existence, there is also something disconcerting about it.

Thanks to word processors, hardly anybody knows how to spell these days. Thanks to cell phones, nobody remembers phone numbers or even writes them down. Thanks to GPS, most people have no idea where they are going in their own hometown.

In a few more generations of smart phones, or at least in a few more generations of users, many people will have in their pockets a consistent excuse to never know anything, to retain nothing, to depend on their phone as a replacement brain.

Are we becoming too dependent on technology? Will some evil mastermind slowly fuck over humanity by hacking into the Google database and subtly creating an alternate reality, biding his time before shutting down our outsourced brain and taking over a new world populated by blithering idiots suddenly unable to navigate their own subdivision, call each other, or differentiate between an orange and a hand grenade? Will people in the future see reality like the Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, but none of it will make any sense?

I'd like to say that this is an absurd notion--in league with my daydream that some deviously clever Luddite is behind the emergence of fully-keyless automobiles, as part of a brilliant plan to freeze them all in place one fateful day and show us the error of our ways-- but the annals of history overfloweth with reasons to be wary of evil men bent on world domination, the consolidation of information, and over-dependence on technology.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens. Meanwhile, I grow more uncomfortable with the realities made possible by the clever and efficient folks at Google.


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