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Google Glass

Google Glass

As any high-tech aficionado can tell you, Google Glass has swiftly transitioned from an Orwellian rumor to a user-friendly reality, with 10,000 of the lightweight wearable devices now out in the world as part of the Google Glass Explorer program.

Some enthusiastic consumers paid $1,500 each to test the product before it officially goes on sale to the public – reportedly sometime in 2014. But Google also offered Glass grants to a limited number of academic and arts institutions to find out from creative minds just where the device might take us.

Thanks to the efforts of Dean of Architecture + Design Pradeep Sharma and Film/Animation/Video Professor John Terry, RISD recently received $4,000 and three Glass prototypes to do a six-month experiment. “We’re one of the few schools using them,” says Terry, who describes the gadget as “a wearable camera that takes still images and video and communicates with your phone and earphones.”

In addition to providing hands-free photography, Google Glass allows users to get directions, send messages, translate their voice into various languages, conduct in-the-moment web searches and share what they’re viewing via a series of voice commands that start with the phrase “OK, Glass.”

“People are totally worried about invasion of privacy and protection of intellectual property,” says Terry. Yet, he points out that Google Glass is not invisible; it’s a fairly noticeable device worn on the head and face. In addition, unscrupulous people have had the means to take secret photographs and make surreptitious recordings for decades. “With any new technology, people have worries about its misuse,” Terry notes. “But all of this is coming. Cameras will only continue to get smaller.”

One high-profile misuse of the product involved Glass-wearing museum-goer Todd Blatt taking a series of photos of the bust of Marcus Aurelius at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and then creating a downloadable 3D model of the piece and offering it online. He’s now marketing a line of products that will either prevent Glass wearers from filming or make it explicit to those around them if they are.

So, how does RISD plan to use the device? Although the project is still evolving, Terry says the basic idea is to use Google Glass to examine the notion of perspective – to “look at the lookers.” One part of the project will explore an “immersive documentary style” in which the viewer is brought into a personal relationship between two FAV students. “The aim is to move away from the spectator view to a subjective view in which the biases and personal viewpoints of the filmmaker are more explicitly dealt with, shared and declared for critique,” the grant proposal explains.

Another approach will study how the viewpoints of individuals physically differ from one another. The project will present three versions of the same Providence street scenes as filmed (and subconsciously edited) by three different Google Glass wearers. In so doing, the team hopes “to explore the mental models we have, how we subconsciously notice the things we want to and subconsciously blank out things we don’t want.”

Google executives are eager to hear what RISD’s team discovers. “We’re free to explore how to use Glass,” says Terry, “but Google wants feedback. We’ll send them examples of what we did at the end of the summer and then again at the end of 2013.”

Simone Solondz

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