Schmidt: Google Glass Critics “Afraid of Change,” Society Will Adapt

Google Glass is just getting into the hands of developers, and you’re still many months away from seeing consumers walking around with the voice-activated computer display/camera devices on their faces.

So just take a breath, Google chairman Eric Schmidt says, before you jump to the worst conclusions about how Glass will ruin privacy or human interaction.

“The proposals that we’ve seen of applications are fantastic,” Schmidt told a group at Harvard University on Thursday. “So let’s just see. Give us a little bit of time. Let’s not pre-judge a product which is just this week getting to developers. Let’s give it a little bit of time to see what human ingenuity around the globe can do.”

“Our goal is to make the world better. We’ll take the criticism along the way, but criticisms are inevitably from people who are afraid of change or who have not figured out that there will be an adaptation of society to it,” he added.

That’s what you’d expect, of course, from a top executive hoping to sell the world on wearable computing. And it’s a message you’re likely going to hear from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) for quite a while, as Glass starts trickling into the world and upsetting old social rules.

The Glass project, championed most publicly by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is the online search and advertising company’s boldest move into computing hardware. Google already makes lightweight laptops and has produced with outside manufacturers several smartphones, which run on its Android mobile operating system.

Glass is another thing altogether. As a concept, it has leapfrogged past smartphones, smart watches, and other personal computing gadgets directly into a world of wearable computers that have long been predicted by futurists and researchers.

The device, which Schmidt has previously said will likely be available to consumers in a year or so, looks like the frame to a pair of sport sunglasses. In the corner is a small, transparent display that can show Web information—directions, temperature, search results. It also has a camera that can take photos and video, and a microphone-and-speaker setup that uses voice recognition software to control its features.

Schmidt is one of the few who have begun playing with Glass, and he says it takes some getting used to—wearing Glass is “the weirdest thing,” he says, particularly the voice recognition features. “What was impressive to me is that you talk to it. You say, `Google Glass,’ and it says `Hello.'”

The audience at Schmidt’s Harvard appearance—timed with the release of his new book—was definitely interested to hear more. Although Schmidt covered a wide range of topics, including international diplomacy and security, Several questions came back to Glass, particularly its effects on society and privacy.

Schmidt and moderator David Gergen

That’s understandable when you’re talking about Google, a company that has been criticized and even paid fines or settlements to regulators for practices that tracked users’ online behavior or surreptitiously collected consumer data while compiling a vast maps database.

Schmidt argued for a take-it-slow approach in dealing with Glass, and suggested that it might simply be new rules of personal etiquette that govern how such devices should be used. That’s what the company certainly would hope for, since the opposite reaction might be a flurry of government regulations in response to public worries about how Google will use the information collected by Glass users.

“Society adapts to these new things, and wearable computing is very much a real thing, of which Glass is just one example,” he said. “We have to have rules about how you use them. And that may literally be just etiquette—what’s appropriate and what’s not. There’s obviously places where Google Glass is not appropriate.”

But he also pointed out that Google isn’t approaching the uses of Glass as a wide-open project, noting that the company is choosing to tightly control who gets access to Glass and is acting as a gatekeeper for which kinds of applications are appropriate—a notable difference from its freer policy on Android, for instance.

“We’re acutely aware of those questions … so we want to be very careful that this new invention is not misused,” he said. “But I’m always concerned about premature regulation based on fear, as opposed to understanding what’s possible. The people who’ve used Glass, including myself, report it as remarkable. I’d like to let it get a little bit farther off a runway before we characterize it in the obvious ways.”

Funny enough, Schmidt himself isn’t really a fan of the ways that an always-connected tech culture has affected human interaction. During Schmidt’s decade as Google CEO, before co-founder Larry Page took the helm, there was a standing rule for one senior-executive meeting: No computers, no smartphones, and talk to each other face-to-face for one hour per week.

It was so hard to resist the pull of the Web, though, that Schmidt had to walk around the meeting room and look for people hiding their phones under the table, dispensing fines to the offenders.

“Even one hour per week, you couldn’t have a civilized conversation. So when Larry replaced me, he gave up. And now I sit in the meeting, typing away like everybody else, with no eye contact. So, if you like eye contact, I’m sorry—you lost,” he said to laughs.

Trending on Xconomy

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

  • one word, strabismus

  • Mark Tarrabain

    No, Schmidt… the criticisms aren’t from people are afraid of change… they are simply from people who don’t like other people recording what they are doing.

    • Vinz Clortho

      Yes. As a critic, I would like to know how exactly Glass will “make the world better”. I find it incredibly naive and irresponsible to force technology out into the world hoping it will solve some undefined problem.

      • When I go to the grocery store, Glass will help me buy better food at better prices, healthier for me, tasting better, saving money. That’s just one example. When I walk down the street, it’ll point me to people who want to talk to me, I can thus start talking to those people without worrying if I disturb their day, because they have purposefully set their setting at “Free to talk”, same thing at parties, same thing in the metro. Glass means the potential end of the uninformed random human experience missing out on opportunities for a better life. Glass makes it all possible simply because of the physical convenience of the microdisplay near eye and hands free operation, an experience not possible with other form factors.

        • Mark Tarrabain

          There are plenty of good applications for Glass. But suggesting that those who oppose it are doing so merely because they are afraid of change is rather blatantly no more than an ad-hominem fallacy. Even if such an accusation were true, that doesn’t invalidate the criticisms.

          • Right there, if there are plenty of good applications for Glass, then it makes no sense for anyone to be against it. It’d be like people being against building a boat or being against building an airplane. Yes it’s possible to use boats for piracy and to use airplanes for dropping atom bombs onto cities, does not justify someone being against someone making an effort at bringing those new form factors and new systems into society.

          • Mark Tarrabain

            But the critics arguments have never really been about how useful it might be… only that they have major privacy concerns. The number of useful applications for Google Glass does not diminish that. Of course, the critic’s arguments do not diminish the number of useful applications either. Perhaps the real question to ask here is, really, which is more important? practicality? or privacy? That’s probably a subjective notion and hardly one you can objectively argue one way or the other.

            Oh… and I noticed the strawman fallacy you used there. If you have any real evidence that can support the premise that critics’ concern for privacy is unjustified you should really be presenting that as your argument instead of inventing what you think someone else who disagrees you might think and showing how that is wrong when the critics have never claimed that they think like that in the first place.

          • There are no valid concerns, there are just a bunch of lame competitors who use any dirty trick in the blog comments they can come up with for throwing all kinds of random crap against Google as they can for zero valid reason. The privacy argument is invalid quite simply because then you should ban all cameras in society, because Google Glass does nothing different than any other camera and sensors in any other smartphone or any other device. The simple re-positioning of that electronics near the eye and hands-free does not suddenly change the privacy implication of said same technology. Google has no interest in trying to spy on people without their consent using facial recognition or anything like that, Google has millions of challenges just trying to get all the object and face recognition work simply for people who opt-in to be recognized and to be a part of the system. People who complain about Google Streetview and the like are just a bunch of German morons that have no understanding of the modern society and most likely are just being influenced by the stupid competitors EU lobbyists that are mainly from Microsoft.

          • respondingtoidiot

            Of course changing the form factor can have different implications for privacy, only an idiot would say otherwise. There is a big difference between a handheld video recorder and the pinhole spy camera I’ve hidden in the smoke alarm in your bedroom.

          • You’re just an anonymous coward. Google Glass is not a hidden camera system. In fact everyone in the room immediately notices when someone enters wearing Google Glass, it’s the most obvious potential camera system, in fact Google Glass is currently about 1000x more visible than the smartphone, smartphones are hidden in pockets, nobody knows who has one and who’s just about to take a picture or video with one. Everyone in the room knows when someone wearing Google Glass is approaching them.

          • dumbguy

            your dumb and google glass sucks!

          • Mark Tarrabain

            But when somebody is wearing them, it may not be immediately obvious *when* they are recording and when they are not, as it would be if they were using a camera, which would be the case when they explicitly hold up their phone or camera when they are taking pictures or video. While its certainly true that a small camera can be less conspicuous than Glass itself is, if you’re going to suggest that people will generally just put their Google Glasses away in their pocket, or what have you, when they are not actually being used, then that defeats virtually all of the benefit of Google Glass being wearable in the first place, in which case Glass would offer no practical advantage over cell phones with a built-in camera anyways (which are generally much more affordable).

          • No.

          • hmmowned

            good counterpoint, but, get this, your dumb

          • You’re an anonymous coward. Thanks for wasting my time. Now, return to your rat feast or gulag documentary or whatever your useless online anonymous life is about.

          • Charbax

            i’m not anonymous, it says my name right there. show me the birth certificate where it says “charbax”. your dumb.

          • Mark Tarrabain

            “There are no valid concerns, there are just a bunch of lame competitors”

            … aaaand we’re back to ad-hominems. I would have simply ignored your comment entirely except you happened to mention this nugget:

            “The privacy argument is invalid quite simply because then you should ban all cameras in society, because Google Glass does nothing different than any other camera and sensors in any other smartphone or any other device.”

            Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You know, you really should have started with that point in the first place instead of resorting to using rather obvious logical fallacies which did nothing to actually explain your position. I’m going to present a possible refutation of the argument you’ve presented here below, but in the interests of understanding the difference between a good argument and a bad one, you should still know that what you’ve mentioned here is an infinitely more useful argument than just insulting people who disagree, because it actually addresses the issue being discussed.

            That said, it’s worth pointing out that there are many places that cameras and cell phones are also forbidden, and if you are a private person caught recording there, or even if you have the device out at all, you’ll get rebuked for it. With Glass, the device is *always* out. It’s intended to be worn, like a piece of clothing, the notion being that it is ready to use whenever you want to, and not something you explicitly have to take out of a pocket, holster, or compartment to ready. This makes it harder to tell whether it’s being used for recording at any given time or not, and is why the concerns about privacy are higher over this kind of technology than devices that are more obviously recording equipment like cameras or cell phones.

            “People who complain about Google Streetview and the like are just a bunch of German morons that have no understanding of the modern society and most likely are just being influenced by the stupid competitors EU lobbyists that are mainly from Microsoft.”

            Please. Bookend ad-hominems (this particular one is called “poisoning the well”; google it… there’s a pretty good wikipedia article on it) don’t do anything to improve people’s perception of your argument, and only open yourself up to retaliatory personal attacks, which although not productive for the argument itself, are still more justified than just insulting a critic because you disagree with them, since at least such a rebuttal would have been in response to an initial insult, rather than being unprovoked, as your negative comments are.

          • Devices like Google Glass don’t have to be worn all the time everywhere the whole day, you can fold them and put them in your pocket, and take them out like sunglasses, only when you are in a situation that can be improved by using this augmented dashboard near eye system. 99.5% of public places have no rules about camera usage, thus they are all perfectly fine places to use Google Glass if needed. If you happen to be in a private party, some kind of concert that forbids cameras, then simply fold your HUD system and keep it in your pocket. The release of such early prototype-1 reference design for Google Glass must in no way justify some completely ridiculous claims, then influence corrupt politicians in this or that region of the world to make all kinds of bogus anti-Google PR about them forbidding the use of Google Glass. Those people suck and are being corrupt by lame Microsoft lobbyists, those people are lame because they use even the release of Google Glass development kit as an attempt at spreading their stupid scroogle advertising campaign. Microsoft sucks. Microsoft owns ZERO of Linux/Android and should be banned from spreading FUD and lies in the media about the supposed royalties/licencing in Microsoft bogus invalid patents against Android/Linux, and them destroying Nokia is also totally lame.

          • Mark Tarrabain

            I’m not saying that *everybody* would necessarily want to wear these everywhere, but by the very virtue of being “wearable”, it does seem to be driving at the notion that a user might want to wear them all the time simply for the convenience factor. Otherwise they offer no advantage over a device one would carry in their pocket anyways.

            Oh… And try to refrain from insulting a demographic that might disagree with you, it doesn’t strengthen your position, and can cause some people to ignore any good arguments you might have. In a formal debate, such tactics are nigh unto a blatant admission that one does not actually have any well-reasoned arguments.

          • sjhvmdkx

            Google just steamrolls everyone they don’t like. Then they keep the profits. Ask the book authors.

        • Vinz Clortho

          My criticism is not privacy (“ok, glass, take a picture.”, “ok, glass, record a video.”, etc.). Simply put, how Glass improves quality of life is not self-evident to me. To me, it comes off as forced and making erroneous assumptions about how people want to (or should) get informed. I can scan food items with my mobile device at the store or do the research on my desktop (or by reading a book!) before leaving home. I prefer the latter. And do you really think that eliminating “random” experiences is a good thing? That’s exactly what makes life interesting.

          As a product, my criticism of Glass is simply that you have to wear on your head. I wear glasses, and I can tell you I much prefer not having them on. How many people do you see wearing wireless headsets all day? Who is not annoyed by having to wear glasses for 3D movies?

          • How can you seriously criticize anyone, any company for working on at least attempting at making wearable computers? I’ve been using headmounted computers for 3 years, I know it’s useful to have a hands-free computing interface. For one you can focus your body at doing all kinds of tasks all the while being near the real-time computing information and all the while being able to do real-time computational queries and actions. For example focus on grabbing groceries in the supermarket while glancing at the screen which can tell you which products are best for you by health, by taste, by price, etc. There is a reason such augmented reality doesn’t work very well on smartphones and tablets, it’s the simple limitation of having to hold up the device for long periods of time, people usually get tired and get bothered to hold up a phone or tablet for more than 5 seconds for any type of such augmented reality application. And no, you are missing out on most life experiences by not using such a device. Today, people ignore everyone else on streets, on public transportation, in public spaces, even at parties, simply because today there is no way to know everyone else in society, thus people tend to avoid starting conversations with strangers, at least most of the time that is what most people do. With augmented reality glasses, like you’re standby for a Hangout on Google+, you can be in a mode that is standby to hangout and chat in real-life with anyone else in your real life, in your real location, quickly locate the person who you can talk to then you don’t need to glance at the glasses again unless maybe you decide to play a game with such person or to glance at interests, background informations, social posts or other. People miss out on billions of opportunities to experience interesting things in life simply because people cannot be aware of all those opportunities without the clever use of such augmented wearable computing. All those things are distracting to do on a smartphone but can be acceptable to do on a wearable headmounted computer. Of course it all depends on the intelligence of the user interface, on the accuracy of the relevance of the limited amount of informations to be displayed in that headmounted display, to try to never show anything that is not fully relevant to the exact situation, requiring minimal user input, if possible maximize the Google Now like automatic situation awareness and automatic information recommendation and a level of artificial intelligence high enough to pick the exact correct information to be shown at the exact right time. It’s just ridiculous for anyone to be critisizing Google for at least attempting at working on trying to create such user interfaces, apps ecosystgems and artificial intelligence to try to offer such personalized and location aware headmounted information.

      • How are you going to be forced to use Google Glass?

    • If you’re doing something in public that you don’t want to be video-recorded how do you deal with surveillance cameras?

    • Bill Brasky

      So what. If someone records you, oh well. It’s not like they couldn’t before. Besides, you are not that interesting, trust me. People will find more interesting things to record.

  • And where will the advertising go Eric? Oh yeah, right to the consumer’s eye… so how is THAT going to make the world a better place? Now, we won’t be able to get away from the ads. Sounds like utopia to me (not).

    And by the way, Eric, society only adapts to those technologies IT deems fit for society. YOU, Eric Schmidt, don’t make that decision.

    • With augmented computing in my face, I’ll have better access to relative augmented informations around me than you, that means I win, you loose. Have fun without the wearable computer.

      • Mark Tarrabain

        Have fun getting them stolen, or getting the crap beat out of you for wearing them someplace where somebody who gets offended by being recorded doesn’t have decorum to politely ask you to remove them. While people who would do that are undoubtedly in the wrong, what difference does that really make when you’re the one with the bruises and still out 1500 bucks that you probably won’t be able to actually ever get back?

      • I’m sure you meant that I will “lose,” and not that I will “loose” right? ;)

        That, and personally, I guess I’ll take the loss. But that’s my opinion… for me, I just don’t see the point of Google Glass, yet. I’ve got enough computing power in my hand with a smartphone, and anything Glass can do beyond that, hasn’t impressed me yet.

        I will have fun without Google Glass, because I guess I’m just not that interested in a wearable computer, yet. I appreciate your take on it though.

    • Peter Holt

      Zero advertising on Glass. Google will not allow it.

      • Then I retract the advertising comment. Thanks for the insight Peter. :)

  • So, no eye contact, how’s that work with Google Glass? People will have to stare into space…

    BTW the killer app for Glass is old age:

  • Is he talking about Glass or the Segway? The market for both seems fairly identical.

  • Polimon

    Resistance is futile.

  • sjhvmdkx

    Schmidt spends all day long spying on the web users and so he expects the world to be this way. But we don’t want people recording our meetings or coming into our bathrooms “forgetting” to turn off their Google Glass. It’s a skeezy system.

  • Number Six

    Eric Schmidt = full of s***. Plain and simple. Brandeis is doing back-flips in his grave about now….

  • When you’re in public anyone can video record you, not just retail stores and police officers, who don’t want you to record them and won’t give you copies of their surveillance footage without a warrant.

  • fjpoblam

    Problem is, I suspect we *won’t* be able to regulate it, even if we want. Cat’s out of the bag. I even saw a comment from a poster on ars considering folk afraid of this device to be “mentally ill”. So, as for me, I have resigned myself to let’er rip. Let those folks who feel they must while away their tawdry lives constantly tuned in, watching commercials, and ogling and taking snaps of others, have at it. I’ll rely upon the diplomacy and good taste of those who choose to face me without the device, and reserve my *personal* scorn for the rest. Matter of taste.

  • Sparky

    Oh yeah, when pervs get caught and assaulted they and Google will start getting sued left, right, and center. Not to mention the inevitable lawsuits from idiots getting killed from walking into traffic, etc.

  • Sparky

    Oh yeah, when pervs get caught and assaulted they and Google will start getting sued left, right, and center. Not to mention the inevitable lawsuits from idiots getting killed from walking into traffic, etc.

  • When you’re in public anyone can video record you, not just retail stores and police officers, who don’t want you to record them and won’t give you copies of their surveillance footage without a warrant.

  • When you’re in public anyone can video record you, not just retail stores and police officers, who don’t want you to record them and won’t give you copies of their surveillance footage without a warrant.

  • Bill Brasky

    “Criticisms are inevitably from people who are afraid of change”
    Perfectly said. Fear is the only thing holding you back.

  • “Criticisms are inevitably from people who are afraid of change.”

    This is nonsense. Technological innovation isn’t the same thing as progress. If it was, then there would be an ever-increasing incidence of happiness and contentment in the world… but there’s not.

    I get very nervous when somebody comes along with something in which they have a great personal stake and starts dismissing all critics in broad strokes and sweeping generalizations. It doesn’t bode well for their own confidence in the technology. Real progress doesn’t require a salesman; the value added is self-evident. To me, Google’s new product does not fit that prototype, and I’ll continue to be very critical despite Schmidt’s pleas that we all stop making such a ruckus.

    • …also cringe-worthy is Schmidt’s claim that rules of etiquette will develop around the product to protect the privacy of bystanders. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d say that you only need to look at the way people use their cell phones in public to realize that an organic etiquette isn’t likely emerge. Sadly, it will take legislation and enforcement, just like eliminating text messaging while driving has.