A conversation with Australian author Richard Flanagan about his latest book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” The Man Booker Prize-winning novel is based on his father’s experience as a slave laborer in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.
This week, consumers who are both fashion conscious and technologically savvy — and wear glasses — got welcome news: Google Glass will now be available for prescription lenses. These glasses, which allow people to shoot video and check email, are on the leading edge of so called “wearable technology.” The new trend includes everything from smart watches to bracelets that monitor fitness. What could be done on our smart phones can be accomplished from smaller and smaller gadgets. But whether consumers are convinced to buy might have less to do with functionality and more to do with personal style. Diane and her panel of guests discuss new trends in wearable technology.
- Cecilia Kang technology reporter, The Washington Post.
- Thad Starner technical lead/manager, Google's Project Glass. He is director of the Contextual Computing Group at Georgia Tech.
- Marlene Morris Towns teaching professor of marketing, Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. She is also the academic director at the Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research.
- Bill Wasik senior editor, WIRED. His cover article for the January issue is called "Heads Up: Why Wearable Tech Will Be As Big As The Smartphone."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. There's a new and growing trend in technology, devices we can wear. Today, the most popular are ones that track our fitness by letting us know how much we're walking, eating and sleeping. But there are also watches that are smartphones and, of course, Google Glass. Here to discuss the world of wearable technology, from privacy concerns to the challenge of making them fashionable, Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post, Marlene Morris Towns of Georgetown University's School of Business and joining us from Berkeley, California, Bill Wasik of Wired magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMFirst, we are joined by Thad Starner. He's in York, Pennsylvania. He's technical lead for Google Glass and a professor at Georgia Tech. Welcome to you, Thad. I'm glad you could join us.
MR. THAD STARNERThank you very much. I should say that I am a technical lead. There are several on the project.
REHMAll right. I'm glad to know that. I gather you were sporting wearable technology long before the term even existed. Why do you see such promise in wearables?
STARNERWell, for me, it was a matter of practicality. I was a student at MIT and I discovered I could either take good notes in class and get everything down that the lecturer was saying, or I could pay attention and get an intuition, but I could not do both. For me, what solved the problem was creating a head up display that put the focus of the display on the blackboard where the lecturer was writing and use a one-handed keyboard called a Twiddler to type notes at the same time.
STARNERThen I'd get everything down and had enough attention to get an intuition of what was going on and even write down my own ideas.
REHMWow. I'm impressed. You, I gather, have now been wearing Google Glass with prescription lenses for a year. Tell us about some of the other ways you've used it. I must say I have concerns about people wearing Google Glass and driving, for example. Does it in anyway interfere with your concentration?
STARNERWell, the glass is normally off. It's designed for small interactions like what you might do glancing in the rearview mirror of your car. And when -- my display is part of my glasses and it's always off when I'm driving and the display is out of my line of sight so it's not like it's even there. It's up in the roof of the car above where the rear view mirror of the car might be. So in that sense, it's not a factor.
REHMYou're also interested in using Google Glass to help people with disabilities. Talk about what you've learned.
STARNERWell, one of the things we discovered is that people with spinal cord injury, people who have tetraplegia due to spinal cord injury or any other factors have been able to use Glass very effectively in that they can respond and receive SMSes very quickly. For example, if you receive and SMS, you hear a little chime in your ear and then you look up and you can actually see -- the display will then turn on, that's the signal for the display to turn on.
STARNERYou read the message and then you can dismiss it just by nodding your head again or you can say, okay, Glass, reply and respond. For people who have tetraplegia, that's a really big deal because now they can actually do SMS faster than their friends can. The other things we're looking at, my group at Georgia Tech has been looking at ways of doing speech recognition by tracking a user's tongue motion, using Glass for people who have cerebral palsy.
STARNERAnd that's when they have very diffluent speech that's very hard to recognize. And we've discovered that there's a chance that Glass can recognize that speech and then use a cell phone to say the phrase the person is trying to articulate.
REHMHow fascinating. Do you think Google Glass is going to go mainstream?
STARNERWell, I certainly believe it's got a good chance. There has been a lot of interest, obviously in the press and obviously with our explorers and people are using Glass in ways that we never thought of. And that's the point of the Explorer program. We're getting a few thousand of these things out there in people's hand so we actually see how they want to use it and where they might go in the future with it.
STARNERAnd we're quite excited by what we've been seeing.
REHMAll right. Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post is here. You have several wearables on you. Talk about those and how they fit into the whole wearable idea.
MS. CECILIA KANGSo right now, Diane, I'm wearing four fitness activity trackers, the Nike Fuel band, the Jawbone Up, the Misfit Shine and the Fitbit. And these are the first wearables to hit the mainstream right now. It's significantly limited in capability compared to what Thad is talking about with Google Glass.
MS. CECILIA KANGGoogle Glass is essentially a computer that you wear on your head. These are basically very limited function -- have limited functionality and I experimented and I wore all four of these for about a few months over the summer and over the spring to see, okay, well, what can I discover about myself? How can this improve my life? How close can this be to giving me better understanding about sort of the activity I do and how healthy I am.
MS. CECILIA KANGAnd I spent a lot of time on this and I sort of came to the conclusion that it was not all that revelatory, what I was learning from these different wearable devices. In fact, I kind of got sick of myself because I was tracking myself so much and I was doing calorie counting and all of this was just to try to see what this whole idea of the quantified self, like measuring yourself and all the great data that you can have now that wearable computing because sensors are so cheap, computing technology is so cheap, there's so many more aspects of our lives that can be tracked and can be computable, frankly, by what we wear.
MS. CECILIA KANGAnd so, so far, I've learned that it's interesting, but maybe not worth the price tag, for me at least.
REHMThad, what do you think of these wearables tracking heart rate and calorie counting and the like?
STARNERWell, there's a certain group of people for whom that's going to be wonderful, people who are very interested in maintaining their fitness at high levels, like marathon runners, or people who have medical issues, or for that matter, the military. In the wearable computing field, we've seen those areas take off and be sustainable for long periods of time.
STARNERThe average person, there's a question now. Will these consumer devices with just the few bits of information they have, will it be sufficient for people to wear them all the time. My wife does and it's sufficient for her. So I think the question is still out there, but certainly this fitness market is, I think, a viable one, certainly in the niche and probably for the general public.
REHMMarlene Morris Towns is a teaching professor of marketing at Georgetown University. Marlene, what do you think of these devices?
MS. MARLENE MORRIS TOWNSI think that they are great novelties. I agree with the point that there are specific segments for whom things like the exercise bands are great, people who are really into fitness and, you know, into tracking the details and those that are trying to, you know, make fresh steps into getting fit and working out and tracking things. I agree with Cecilia that they are limited in the data that they collect and how they're used.
MS. MARLENE MORRIS TOWNSAnd I think that at some point, the novelty probably wears off. And from looking at them, you know, they're cool and athletic-looking, but they don’t necessarily go with every outfit or every look.
REHMAnd Bill Wasik is senior editor at Wired. He wrote an article for the January issue called "Head's Up: Why Wearable Tech Will Be As Big As The Smartphone." What do you think, Bill?
MR. BILL WASIKWell, I'm obviously a lot more bullish on wearable tech and where it goes from here. You know, I think that the other type of device we haven't talked about yet is actually the Smartwatch. So this is, for example, Pebble is a company that's made a watch that when you get a phone call, you can see who's calling. It will give you your text messages. It will tell you all about a lot of the data that you really want, that's right now trapped inside your phone in your pocket.
REHMSo what you're saying is all you'd have to do is glance at your watch, use it for email and a phone?
WASIKNo, I don’t think that wearable technology will replace the Smartphone, but I do think that we've gotten to a point with our phones that we rely on them so much that wearable devices, like Google Glass or like a Smartwatch will take a lot of the interactions that we currently have with our phone and put them sort of out on our body in a way that they become just a lot more natural and a lot less sort of distracting to our daily lives.
REHMAnd speaking of wearing things on our bodies, Thad Starner, before I let you go, what about the development of clothing that has some capability to tell us things about ourselves?
STARNERWell, my research group at Georgia Tech has been doing that for a while. We've been wearing devices every day for 20 years and we've had a textiles program for quite some time. However, what we've discovered to be really the compelling application is on dogs. We have this project called FIDO, facilitating interactions for dogs with occupations, where we're making basically vests for these dogs with textiles and sensors in them where, you know, if you have, say, a dog who's out on a search and rescue mission, say, in the mountains in the Sierra Nevadas and you're looking for a lost child -- these dogs often cross train for live search as well as for cadaver search.
STARNERAnd you send the dog out and it can actually bite one thing or one area of the vest or pull another and that indicates whether or not they've found a live or dead body and then the trainer can actually send back a signal from a distance.
REHMWell, that is really something. Thad Starner, thanks for joining us. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about new technology that's actually wearable. Here in the studio is Cecilia Kang. She's technology reporter for the Washington Post. Marlene Morris Towns is teaching professor of marketing at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. And joining us from the studios of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is Bill Wasik. He's senior editor at Wired magazine. His cover article for the January issue is called "Heads Up: Why Wearable Tech Will Be as Big as the Smartphone.
REHMAnd Thad Starner, just before the break, you were talking about these vests for dogs. Can you say a little more about that?
STARNERCertainly. So we've identified quite a few situations where dogs have occupations that might benefit from having a wearable computer on them. And they include the search and rescue scenario I gave you, but we're also just working with the Georgia State Police with bomb-sniffing dogs. So generally a dog is trained to approach an explosive and stay there until the handler releases them. And oftentimes this is on a 6' leash, which is dangerous for both the dog and the trainer.
STARNERWhat we saw just the other day was dogs off leash or on a 20' leash. And the thing is the dogs can actually distinguish between stable explosives like, you know, a gun powder explosive versus an unstable explosive, like a peroxide explosive. And since dogs know this, they can communicate it to their handler, again, by just selecting one or the other button textile or capacitive device on their vest. And then the handler at a distance can look on their -- in this case we have it hooked up to Google Glass-- can look on Glass and say, oh this is an unstable explosive. Let me recall my dog and just figure out where he was using the GPS unit.
REHMFascinating. The question I would have is for the ordinary dog owner. Could a vest be used to housebreak an ordinary pup?
STARNERWe haven't looked at that yet. Mostly we've been looking at very well-trained dogs, assistance dogs, dogs who help people who are blind communicate better with their handler. These bomb-sniffing dogs, these...
REHMBut I would think you'd have a goldmine on your hands if you could develop such a vest to help housebreak a dog.
STARNERQuite possibly. We'll take that idea and take a look at but, you know, we're academics. We're more interested in pushing what's possible in the world than necessarily making a goldmine.
REHMOkay. And Bill Wasik, you are clearly interested in what has already come on to the market but what do you see coming in the immediate and long term future?
WASIKWell, as I said before the break, I'm very excited about smart watches. I think that what you saw last year was some small companies getting some traction with smart watches. You saw big companies like Samsung, which makes a lot of mobile phones, getting into that market. I think you'll see more interesting smart watches this year and in the coming years. You know, I also am a big believer in, you know, to Thad's point about sort of what you can do just with fabric or with technology that doesn't necessarily have a screen on it.
WASIKJust in sort of working out the cool possibilities of what you can do by putting sensors in garments or, you know, on people in interesting ways. So for example, Thad mentioned dogs. You know, there are some really neat products that essentially are just dog trackers. So you can -- you know, if your dog roams around in the backyard during the day, you can actually sit there in your office and see a little dot to track where the dog is. And better still, if the dog leaves, you know, the enclosure of your yard then you actually could get a text message about it.
WASIKYou know, and in this way I think that a lot of the interesting wearable, you know, applications, as they say, are sort of related to this other trend that people call the internet of things, you know. So you might've heard that Google recently bought this company called Nest where it's a smart thermostat that also has now a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector. And, you know, the plan is for Nest, and a lot of other companies, to make little devices and little sensors inside the home.
WASIKWell, you know, one of the ways that those sensors can interact is with sensors on you, on your body. You know, there's a company not far from you in Northern Virginia called Smart Things that I went and visited. And, you know, the entrepreneur there has something like 150 different devices that are connected inside his house. But one of the most important one or set of devices are the ones that he has on himself and on his family. So his wife drives into the driveway and the garage door opens. And, you know, it's Jetsons type of stuff, but it's starting to happen now.
KANGWell, I was just going to echo what Bill was saying. The capabilities now, because sensors are so cheap and because computer technology has advanced so much and because search has become so much better and more predictive and contextual, really opens, as Bill was saying, this world of possibilities. And I was at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and much of the floor is -- much of that conference really is about stuff that never makes it to retail stores, or makes it to even the mainstream. But it is about to peak your interest in what is the possibilities.
KANGAnd everything -- it's you can imagine -- well, if you have a shirt that can detect what your heart beats like, how anxious you may be and you have eye-tracking technology to see where your eye moves, then maybe you can put a lot of this information together and even get a sense of what is the current state of that person. And if I were say Netflix or YouTube and I wanted to recommend a video based on that person's mood at the moment, that could be possible. These are sort of within the realm of possibility going forward.
REHMAnd of course that gets into the privacy concerns.
TOWNSYes, it definitely does. I think to this point and in recent past just the word tracking has a negative connotation from NSA tracking, government tracking. It just -- the word itself is such a loaded term. I think though that consumers are seeing the benefits that are there. So, you know, things that technology affords to improve their lives, to make their quality of life better, that that giving up of information, as long as you're getting something in return, can necessarily be acceptable, and I think, in some instances, welcomed.
REHMOne thing I might have some concerns about that and maybe you can put my mind at ease here, long term studies about the health factor in wearing such devices. I realize that very few people are wearing these right now. But if you had a huge population with clothing that had sensors, what do we know or think about the long term consequences to our health?
STARNERWell, fortunately, Google with Glass and, you know, is following a policy of the living laboratory, which means that as you make the technology, you get enough people using it in their everyday lives for an extended period of time, that you start figuring these things out. Now for a lot of these technologies we're talking about, I've personally been wearing them for 20 years. And there's a handful of other people who have and in our laboratories it's been five years or so. And somebody with the Explorer's Program it's been a couple of years.
STARNERAnd it's a good opportunity to see if there's any risks there. And so far we really haven't seen anything like that.
REHMI'm glad to hear that. Bill Wasik, what do you think? You've tried Google Glass. Do you think it's really going to catch on and become part of the mainstream?
WASIKWell, you know, to echo what Thad said, you know, this is a really experimental project on Google's part. You know, it's sort of far -- you know, a lot of the privacy concerns that people have about, you know, putting a camera on your face or just the kind of weirdness factor of having a screen in front of your eye, you know, these are all things that are pretty far out in front of, you know, even the rapidly evolving social norms about how we use technology.
WASIKAnd I think that that's to Google's credit. I think that only a company like Google that has sort of not just the resources but also the kind of like crazy big, you know, think vision would be sort of putting the resources into, you know, making a project like this possible. So, you know, I think that we're seeing how people are using it. And I think that what we've seen is a lot of people, you know, realizing that they can do a lot of amazing things with it. I do also think -- and this is to just sort of segue into the fashion question, that there is -- even among some pretty serious geeks out in Silicon Valley, there is a bit of resistance, you know, to wearing these things out all the time.
WASIKYou know, I think that that might change. I think that Google Glass might very well be the thing that makes it okay to have something like that on your face. But I think that what we've seen out here, even among the kind of early adopter crowd, is that it's not quite there yet. It's going to be a process, at the very least, of acclimating people.
REHMBut think about Dick Tracy and the comic book -- the comic strip with that watch that he could look to and have all kinds of access to all sorts of information. Here's a Tweet from Nick who says, "I wear a Pebble smart watch every day. It's very nice not having to look at my phone all the time. Wearables are great." Do you wear one of those smart watches, Thad Starner?
STARNERNo. I gave up on watches many decades ago. They're not -- the inconvenience of them are not worth the functionality at the time. And since I had a wearable computer which has so much capability, I just went to that. I think the item about fashion is also cultural and regional. In Atlanta, for example, people wear Bluetooth headsets as fashion. They actually flaunt the technology and it's part of the culture there. And one of the things we've been seeing very excited about is 18- to 30-year-old women are very willing to adopt things like Google Glass and make it part of their normal everyday lives.
STARNERAnd I think with the prescription glasses now coming out we'll see more and more people wearing them all the time.
REHMHere's another Tweet which says, "I don't think it's personal style alone that will drive consumers to buy or not, but also issues of privacy and backdoor NSA access." What do you think, Bill Wasik?
WASIKYeah, you know, I think that practically speaking, right, we're all walking around with these phones in our pocket that are trackable. You know, people are worried about the camera on Google Glass. Well, you know, there's a camera in your pocket and you see people constantly just pulling it out and taking pictures of whatever they want, you know. So I think that -- to Thad's answer to the question about driving, I think that it's right that what Google Glass does and what smart watches do, a lot of these products are basically, you know, not really pushing a lot of those violations of privacy or concerns about distraction sort of further than they already are. If anything they are ameliorating some of them.
WASIKBut with the NSA thing, you know, I am very, very interested to see how public opinion really moves with this NSA stuff.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Cecilia.
KANGWell, I think with the -- the thing about wearables is that it's so much more natural, right, to be able to use your watch to record video while you're skiing without pulling out your phone or use your Google Glass. And it's less obvious what you're doing sometimes. And actually that is -- therein is the rub. That's actually what concerns people and that's why a restaurant in Seattle, for example, banned Google Glass ahead of time because they don't like the idea of other customers feeling nervous that they might be recorded.
KANGI think this will challenge some social norms. I do think that as this technology is supposed to be much more useful and natural to our daily lives and that we don't have the cumbersome, you know, problem of picking up our phone from our pocketbooks and having it slip down between our, you know, couch cushions and that kind of inconvenience.
KANGThe question really is, okay I see somebody with Google Glass walking toward me. And is that guy recording me? Those are the sorts of social norms that this is going to challenge.
REHMAll right. Let's...
STARNERWell, let me -- if I could answer that one.
STARNERSo one of the things about having these living laboratories doing these experiments is actually precisely looking at these sorts of issues. As you notice, Google Glass, whenever it's on, the display's lit. If you're in -- if you're a conversational partner with somebody wearing Glass, you can actually see their display if you look into the display. And so there's a lot of social signals that are built into Glass to include others in your conversational group in the interaction with Glass.
STARNERAs a matter of fact, most of the interactions are pretty obvious. If you're saying -- if you want to take a picture you can actually say, okay, Glass, take a picture, or you actually hit the button at the top of the glasses, which is very much like hitting a button on a point-and-shoot camera. And so one of the things we've been doing is designing the interface with Glass and the other wearable cures I make to actually give the sort of social cues that you're talking about so people know what you're doing with it.
STARNERAnd, you know, that helps people keep the social contract that's currently there between folks. Whereas, you know, you're not recording a conversation without permission. You're not doing all these other things you could do with any of these devices. I mean, go down to -- I mean, there's so many devices on the internet already which, you know, are very good spy gear. And you know what? The things that are coming out on the wristwatches and the head-up displays are not very good spy gear. They are, as a matter of fact, much more honest and straightforward about what's going on due to social cues.
REHMInteresting. And, Thad, here is a Tweet about something you mentioned earlier, the medical aspects. It says, "Please ask your guests to comment on potential for wearables in medical apps like clinical trial measures for people with, for example, ALS who can't just bop over to the doctor."
STARNERWell, so one of the things that my lab works with is patients with ALS. As a matter of fact, my -- just say that my lab partner Melody Moore Jackson has done a lot of time making interfaces for people with ALS. And that's one of the things that our explorers have been doing, is looking at situations like this to see what sort of interfaces make a lot of sense for people who are locked in, as well as for these medical trials.
REHMReally extraordinary, don't you think?
TOWNSI think it's absolutely amazing, the applications and the medical field and the potential that's there. I think -- if I might go back to the issue of mainstreaming and kind of becoming a fashion, I think that Google Glass is at a really important crossroads right now in terms of getting and accepted. I think it could go the way of, you know, being a little too nerdy for prime time or it could be accepted. It's all in how it's marketed and promoted.
REHMMarlene Morris Towns of Georgetown University. A short break here. When we come back we'll open the phones for your questions and comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd that of course is from Sunday's episode of "The Simpsons," where Homer gets Google Glasses. Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Elkhart, Ind. Juanita, you're on the air.
JUANITAThanks for taking my call. I have a brief comment and two questions and then I'll take the answer offline. My comment is that there's obvious advantages to this technology which is just in its infancy, but I believe it'd be naive to believe that it could not be used in ways that would be a disadvantage to the American public.
REHMWell, that's a certainly a question, Juanita.
JUANITAWhat is a possibility of it being used and abused, this technology, in its infancy being abused?
REHMOkay. Let's see what Bill Wasik has to say.
WASIKWell, yeah, I mean I think that we would be naive to look at this stuff and not be concerned. But I think it's very similar to cellphones. I think that we need to be wary, just as we ought to be more wary with our phones now.
TOWNSI think that there is always going to be sort of a learning curve, socially, as to how these new devices are going to be used. I mean just like we know that once you put your phone up and press record, there's a certain posture you take when you're recording something. And that's a social cue. There will be social cues. Right now we have to sort out what the social cues will be for the wristwatch that records video and the Google Glass, like Thad was talking about. And it may not be obvious to a lot of people at first. And so that's sort of the evolution or the learning curve.
REHMAll right. To Larry, in Columbia, Mo. You're on the air.
LARRYHi. Well, I've got two comments. First, to be successful wearable tech cannot look like a Borg implant. That's why the Bluetooth ear roaches haven't really caught on. But the second comment is we get burned by this technology not actually delivering what it promises. If our cars worked as poorly as our cellphones do we would have a wreck every single day. I have a whole house full of sensors and tech and stuff on the lights and motion sensors and stuff, every last one of them failed within six years of installing them. So that's my comment, is we've all been burned by this stuff that promises and doesn't actually deliver. Thank you.
TOWNSWell, I actually agree with Larry on both of those points. I think, one, I bought my husband a Galaxy watch for Christmas and he was fascinated with it for a couple of days and then it didn't quite work as well.
REHMA couple of days? What did it do?
TOWNSHe could read some of his messages, but I think that fascination died out pretty quickly. It wasn't quite as convenient as he thought. It wasn't quite has -- it was a little harder to read the messages, you know, in such a small space. And after a few days it kind of went the way of Merry Christmas gifts.
REHMCecilia, you've got one on now.
KANGWell, actually, I don't have a smartwatch on I should say. Most of these are fitness devices, but I have tried the Galaxy gear and that is actually interesting. And I agree with Bill that the watches hold more promise, in terms of getting closer to the Smartphone in a hands-free way. But functionality is really important. And I think when there's more development in the software arena -- now that Google, for example, with their Google Now application that is more predictive of what you want to find on the web, and can push it to you, as opposed to you searching -- either by typing in the tool bar or asking Google, well, I want to know what the best restaurant is here.
KANGThey can, because of the data that they've collected on you, get a sense of where you might be wanting to go and where the fastest traffic pattern may be. These kinds of applications that truly make a difference in your life, in terms of making it easier, will be sort of the key going forward to making a lot of this technology useful for people.
REHMAll right. And, Thad, here's an email for you from Deb. She says, "I use my dog's GPS for my husband, who has young onset Alzheimer's. He would carry it in his backpack and then I would pick him up where he had hiked. Now he's much worse. I'm looking for something small that could attach to his belt without his trying to take it off. I haven't had any luck. Are there new things out there for the Alzheimer's patient?
STARNERAnd that was to me?
STARNEROkay. Well, that's one of the things that people are starting to look at as a potential market segment. I don't know what's really out there right now, but I do know that some of our explorers are looking at the new prescription version of Glass for this sort of thing. Because it's your eyeglasses and you see with them. And so you're not going to forget them. You're not going to take them off and wonder what they were and leave them behind because you don't know what they are. They are eyeglasses, you need them to walk around and therefore you'll probably keep them with you.
STARNERAnd so, therefore, for the people who have cognitive impairments perhaps these new prescription eyeglass dual glasses might -- Google Glass might actually be a viable alternative. We'll see.
REHMAll right. We'll go back to the phones to Ditto, in Conway, Ark. You're on the air.
DEETOHi, Diane. Yeah, it's Deeto.
REHMDeeto, sorry about that.
DEETOThat's okay. Yeah, and I actually teach at a university here. And this is sort of directed towards your guest from Georgia Tech. We are limited in the amount of information we can share about our student by federal law, grades and academic achievements and such. So we can't use Gmail to discuss these things because Google's terms of service say that they can retransmit and republish in perpetuity anything that is posted on a Google doc or sent through Gmail and I guess now, picked up by the Google Glass.
DEETOAnd so my question is, you know, if a professor were wearing Google Glasses and maybe had them on while doing students' grades, they could be inadvertently breaking federal law. And so there's a social contract involved in this, but there are actually, you know, federal legal contracts that we're obliged to follow.
REHMYeah, that's very interesting. What about that, Thad?
STARNERWell, that's not where I thought the question was going. The law you're talking about is FERPA. And as a professor, of course I'm well aware of it. I really can't comment about the policy stuff, but I urge you to talk with Google about FERPA and the use of Gmail. As far as when I'm grading stuff, you know you, as a user, are always in control of the data and what gets shared and what does not. And so the sharing of the information is up to the individual glass wearer. And so there's no violation of FERPA right there. Right? You'd actually have to do something active to share it with somebody else to actually get in trouble.
TOWNSThe privacy aspect of this and of all these wearables are still to be determined. And I think what the big question is -- and why this is different than Smartphone privacy, if you will -- is because the capability, especially going forward of constant location information, which of course you can get on your Smartphone, but if you have a smartwatch with GPS and you're constantly wearing a lot of these things, there's a lot more location that you can gather, potentially. And also, as a lot of this technology starts to collect more biometric information, that'll be really interesting. As the collection of data becomes more personal and more all the time, wherever you are and how that information is going to be used for commercial purposes by the software companies like Google, those are the big questions right now that consumers have and that regulators will have going forward.
STARNERAnd that's one of the things I'd really like to urge people to do. There's a service, when you log into any of Google's products, there's a service called Dashboard, which tells you explicitly what they are keeping. And I encourage everybody to go look at that. And you have the option of deleting it, getting rid of it, changing it, all that sort of stuff. It's the whole principle of access and recourse. And so, like I said, it's called Dashboard. Please check it out.
REHMAll right. Bill Wasik?
WASIKWell, I just want to jump in and say, you know, the NSA question has come up. And I think we really are at this interesting inflection point with the privacy question, with all of this stuff. And I think that Cecilia's totally right about this. That a lot of the snooping that's possible with wearables is already possible with phones. And I think the NSA is bringing to the fore sort of all of these deep questions about, well, you know, how much do we really care whether it's an entity that we generally believe to be benevolent, which, let's face it, people think that about the U.S. government, they tend to think that about Google.
WASIKYou know, some people disagree, but the point is that a lot of people have shrugged about this stuff. And I think how this plays out over the next couple of years is going to be very, very key. Not just to the future of wearables, but to the way we think about all this stuff.
REHMBut, Bill, who's compiling all this data? Who's storing it?
WASIKWell, you know, varies a lot from project to project. And so from what we've heard, the NSA is stockpiling a lot of it. What they're doing with it, you know, they claim not very much unless they have some reason to go into your archives and check it out. With Google I would say some of it is just passing through their server and not staying there. Some of it is staying there. So it lives in a lot of different places. And I think the question of what people are doing with it, whether these institutions are doing anything, you know, untrustworthy with it is the big question that everybody's trying answer.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Aspen, Colo. Hi, Robert.
ROBERTHi. How are you guys today?
ROBERTI teach application development at a small college here in Aspen. And at the Isaacson School one of the things we're focusing on are some of the competitors to Google Glass, like Recon Jet and Oakley Airwave that has very specific uses to sports. And what I'm wondering is what your guests think about the challenges Google Glass has in trying to be a ubiquitous wearable, instead of focusing on some kind of specific use or outcome.
WASIKWell, yeah, because Recon is a very interesting project that I wrote about in this thing. So it's for skiers and snowboarders, right? So you're out on the slopes and in your googles there's a little screen that will track your stats and tell you where your friends are and that sort of thing. And I'm very, very high on the idea that in the near term it's those targeted applications, whether it's for, you know, people doing sports, bikers and skiers, or -- and this is another thing I know Thad has thought a lot about -- for people doing tough jobs. So you're a repair guy and you have some situation that you haven't been faced with before and your camera is recording what you see.
WASIKAnd there's a voice in your ear. Or surgeons. So you can imagine you are a surgeon in some less-developed country or in some hospital in the United States where you don't have some very specialized piece of knowledge. And in your ear there is a surgeon at, you know, some expert telling you what to do.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Marlene?
TOWNSI think that that's one of the opportunities, as well as challenges for marketers, is to really make clear what some of the uses and applications are. How it's going to make people's lives better. It kind of reminds me of TiVo and TiVo's introduction many years ago, that was basically a digital video recorder, but to the marketplace it was very new, getting our heads around…
TOWNSYeah, how do you record with no VHS tape and pausing live TV?
TOWNSSo their challenge was to show people how it actually improved their lives and made their lives better. So I think some of the ones with really focused applications, like the ones for sports and things like that are great and kind of show the market how exactly this works and how it makes my life better. And then, you know, the other challenge is then making it cool, making it acceptable to wear. So, you know, there are things that are just not -- even no matter how great they are in terms of technology and capability, if they are not fashionable, especially since you're wearing it, you know, how do we actually position it as something that's not just acceptable, but desirable and sought after?
REHMAnd, Thad, to you.
STARNERWell, that's one of the things that -- I'm just trying to say, the fashionable thing is one of the things I'm so excited about. Our designer Isabelle has done such a great job that Vogue magazine, for the September issue last year -- that's the big, 1,000-page issue that kind of sets the trend for fashion for the next year -- that they came to the Glass team and asked for devices to include as part of their fashion accessories. And so I'm excited that the fashion world has kind of embraced these new devices and really thought about them as fashion accessories, which is great.
STARNERNow, as far as the thing about trying to position these things, show people what they're good for, the thing that this device is really good for is reducing the time between your intention to do something and your ability to do it. And so there's a question of why do you use a laptop instead of a desktop? Or why do you use a Smartphone instead of a laptop? You know, everything you can do on your Smartphone you can do better on your laptop. Well, you do it on your Smartphone because you can carry it with you, you can access it faster, you can do it more easily.
STARNERWith these head-up display devices and with the wristwatches, your time between intention to do something, like, say, check on an SMS and your ability to read that SMS gets under two seconds. And that's a magic number in which case you can actually do it without, you know, having it be much mental workload at all. And that's the fundamental change here. And I think that's what people are going to discover, is that what these devices give you is access to your world, in a more fluid, more out of your way manner. And the paradox here is that by bringing the technology closer to the body, we actually get it out of the way for life. And that is something that I think our explorers are discovering.
REHMBill Wasik, I want to give you the last word. For you, what is the most exciting development you see coming?
WASIKYou know, I think that as these sensors get smaller and you can them on everything and on different parts of your body, I think that you're going to see ways for the devices in our lives to coordinate in ways that weren't possible before. So your future might not be what you have, just this one laptop or now it's this one phone that's the center of your life, but it might be, you know, the screen in your house talks to your phone which talks to your wearable which talks to your car, etcetera, etcetera. And I think that it's funny in some ways, but I think that it's a future that's coming. And I think that it's got lots of opportunities for us.
REHMBill Wasik of Wired Magazine, Thad Starner of technical lead and manager for Google's Project Glass, Marlene Morris Towns of Georgetown University, Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post. What an exciting program. Thank you all.
TOWNSThank you, Diane.
KANGThank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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