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Through a Glass... Clearly?

I recently attended a Google product demonstration. I didn't have to hitch my wagon to a trail heading West. Mountain View came to me. Google's demos are on a world tour, taking up London residence in a customised townhouse on Fitzroy Square.

I've just seen 'The Future', and I'm a little uncertain how to feel about it.

Of course, seeing the future is a little unnerving. Sure, it quickens the pulse and gets you speculating, but it spooks in that you're learning your world is changing.

I recently attended a Google product demonstration. I didn't have to hitch my wagon to a trail heading West. Mountain View came to me. Google's demos are on a world tour, taking up London residence in a customised townhouse on Fitzroy Square.

You receive an invite, a time and place, and in failing light duly rap on the brass G door knocker, stepping across a threshold to discover... 'The Future' has a W1 postcode.

But before we step further, let's first consider how we got here, time-rewind and join a few temporal data points.

The Prologue, I suggest, is in a land of late 80's power dressing and executive fleet cars. In 1989, when Charles Dunstone launched 'The Carphone Warehouse', he was looking no further into a future than where a phone-in-your-home was naturally scale-able to a phone-in-your-car.

Only Dunstone, like everyone else, wasn't thinking big enough. Phones-in-cars became 'in-pockets' became internet-connected, but where early iterations were Neolithic, blunt, ineffectual compared to what we're now on the cusp of.

But I've already time-jumped too soon. Rewind: December 25th 1990. Tim Berners-Lee sends the first successful HTML missive. While so many of us tuck into our turkey, no one can appreciate this revolutionary trigger pull... in the form of a key stroke. There's no popping sound. No grand explosion. Just an email... of seismic consequence.

Now adjust the time-dial. Fast forward 7 years: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in their Stanford days. 'Google' is a garage band style project, operating out of a garage. September 15th 1997: Page and Brin register the domain ''.

Forward again. January 2013: Google announces earnings of $50 billion in annual revenue for 2012.

1989, 1990, 1997, 2013, four points in time. Joined. You could make it a square, see it as a screen.

Hand on heart, no one screaming into the light anytime from 1946 to 96 could have said, "Yeah, I'll be living through a Revolution as major as the Industrial Revolution. The Digital Revolution is going to make The Jetsons seem like The Flintstones."

Time to hop out of our time machine (yes, it can be a De Lorean if you like). Parked in 'The Now' of Fitzroy Square (single yellow's are fine at this time of night), let's return to the warmth of 'Google House', where it's clear: The Jetsons feels techno retro.

Google's 'Townhouse Demonstrations' demonstrate one thing: the mobile phone has progressed to a Higher Purpose. While it's been the over-eager 'Year of the Mobile' every year for about the last 5 years, 2014 might just be the year the declaration becomes bona fide.

Smartphones are now getting genuinely smart, and Google's voice activated search moves the whole game on. Talking into our phones has become talking to our phones, with the major change being that they're talking back.

Yes, our Sat Nav's already talk at us, but Google's iOS Search App is more like an oracle and translator.

The App download copy reads: "Just say "Ok Google" to begin. You'll also get answers before you ask".

While pre-emptive search results is impressive, it's small fry compared to your phone's newly coded ability to aurally translate one language into another, within a heartbeat of utterance.

"Phone as instant translator" is mind blowing - though 12 months hence, it'll likely feel second nature. In the same way email improved people's writing skills, I wonder, will Google inadvertently turn us all into slightly better linguists?

But this is no time to ponder. In the attic, there's Google Glass.

The ginger bearded Google-ite (twenty-something; West-coaster; laid-back smarts) giving the crash course happily admits, "The experience is a little hard to explain". He's not wrong.

Specs on. It's like giving your waking moments a heads-up display. Combined with voice command and Glass further merges the already fuzzy line between our physical and digital worlds.

It's is next generation Augmented Reality; way beyond "gamifying your day". When the 'Synthetic (or Virtual) World' is folded back on the physical, and put before your eyes, not only does the view fundamentally change but the question begs: what is "real"?

As I went through a range of 'OK Glass' commands, I couldn't help think, how insanely cool will this be when it becomes a contact lens?

Wearing Google Glass made me think of Ferris Bueller and Alfie, and how we partly feel we know them the way we do because they talked to us, broke the fourth wall, came that little bit closer. Google Glass is breaking the internet's fourth wall, bringing it nearer. Technology has never felt more intimate.

But the show's not over. Glasses off. Click on Google's Cultural Institute to witness an increasingly inventoried world of cultural artefacts, all at a proximity "physically being there" doesn't allow. Having quantified the planet with Google Earth, Google is now capturing the micro, the contours of a brushstroke, and "mapping the world of indoor spaces". 'Street views' have moved indoors.

Thank-you's and goodnight's said, it's time to return to the Autumn cold of a London going home and out. Fitzroy Square looks timeless, the kind of place where you could exchange evening pleasantries with a passing Sherlock Holmes. What would Holmes deduce from our recent encounters? Certainly that Google in Moriarty's hands would be a very bad thing. Might a path to world domination simply be via world documentation?

Perhaps Holmes would further make the kind of observation Spiderman knows all too well, that "with great power comes great responsibility".

One can only hope Google is good to their word and 'Don't Be Evil' mantra - because I think it's clear who's gathering the power, and that it's of a kind that might just require super hero levels of restraint.


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