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Google Goggles: The End of Wonder?

It is fitting to end a tumultuous year with the announcement of what seems like the most disquieting invention of them all–at least in the image world. Google’s Goggles is a system whereby one points the cellphone camera at buildings, books, bridges, paintings and the like, and within seconds information appears indicating what you are looking at. While early reports indicate that there are numerous errors being made (the system is still being tested), and it does not yet work with animals, plants or automobiles, still one can only be staggered by the enormity of visually identifying nearly everything on the planet. Are we lurching to the end of wonder?

“What is that?” becomes a question that no longer needs to be spoken. Those of us who tend to be allergic to captions will find much of the world–particularly those parts made by humans–all too easily labeled and categorized, without the ambiguities that kept us curious and humble. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” but my cellphone told me all about each one before I took the first step–where’s the risk? Goggles and Photosynth in combination will make sure that little is left to the imagination.

Of course, once Google decides to raid Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and all the rest (let’s not even talk about databases of college students, drivers, criminals, soldiers, etc.), then our cute little cellphones will also be able to identify many of our fellow humans. How many unpaid parking tickets? How much alimony owed? Inner circle of friends? Favorite ice cream? Arrest warrants? Favorite fetish? Walking in the street without scarves, sunglasses and hats would constitute a baring of the individual way beyond what occurs in any nudist colony.

Google explains it all in a cartoon (why show the real thing and upset people?). I wonder how many people will pay attention to this as anything but another “helpful” gimmick? I wonder how many photographers will find this evolution of their profession disquieting? Isn’t it time we started discussing where all this imaging technology is taking us?


  1. buckyarbuckle wrote:

    I can see how this could be convenient and informative on some level; for guided tours, education, and the like. But I worry that if this technology is refined and proliferated it could spell doom for our ability to identify and analyze. If we just look through the phone’s camera and accept the target object for whatever the “sum total of its data” is, then we risk atrophying our skills of curiosity and inquisition.
    Maybe this could be helpful if it was made open to contributions from everybody, like a wiki? If a landmark’s identification page or whatever could be updated on the spot by the user of the phone? Or would that be too easy to abuse?

    Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 3:59 am | Permalink
  2. fredritchin wrote:

    I think it is going to be a free for all in the beginning, and the wiki is a great idea. Hopefully those with more creative ideas will try to steer the directions of some of these gadgets, opening up vistas that are more than the purely commercial.

    Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  3. buckyarbuckle wrote:

    Yeah, I would hope that maybe people using Goggles or similar technology could be presented with opposing or contradictory views of a landmark or restaurant, so that they could be pre-informed but still encouraged to make their own discoveries and decisions.

    Friday, December 25, 2009 at 12:52 am | Permalink
  4. Tom White wrote:

    Around 10 years ago, the rise of CCTV and a surveillance society in the UK went hand in hand with a rise in teenagers attempting to mask their identity by wearing hoods and scarves. Groups of young men would be seen wandering around with hoods pulled up and caps pulled low. Although I don’t remember anyone in the media making the connection at the time, it seemed obvious to me. The problem arose that those wearing hoods and hats became a target of a kind of witch hunt. Criminals hide their identity, and with hooded and hatted criminals being caught on TV the association grew that anyone wearing such clothing must be hiding themselves because they were up to no good. This went so far as to become something debated in Parliament, calls from sectors of society to ban the wearing of hooded tops and gave rise to the term ‘Hoodies’ to describe youth in general and antisocial youth in particular. The ‘Hoodies’ - like any teenagers would - of course played up to this role.

    What, I wonder is the digital equivalent of this going to be? It is easy enough to be anonymous online in a role playing game or with a blog. Psuedonyms are easily adopted and accepted in the virtual world, but with the digital realm starting to merge with the analog through devices and software such as this google goggle, to what extent are our identities going to be confirmed, hidden, or revealed? To quote a popular Japanese Manga - are we all to become just ghosts in a shell?

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  5. fredritchin wrote:

    To me it is almost always like the magician who does the trick with the hand we are not looking at. While we are free to revel with pseudonyms in the online world, in the streets and airports we are going to be photographed for face recognition, scanned under our clothing, and given about as much rights as our avatars. We are becoming ghosts in a shell, I agree, while looking at the screens that promise our freedom and, if one looks a bit more closely, also our imprisonment.

    And as the new year dawns, we need to quickly reassert priorities and figure out new ones. From where I sit attacking Afghanistan so we can more quickly turn our airports into potential terror zones is not what we want.

    Here’s hoping for more peace and reason in this coming year.

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  6. …. With this new x-ray image banked, it occurred to me that along with the rest of data stored about me, from my fingerprints taken at US entry points, to the information that I share voluntarily via social media sites, my Augmented Reality self (my real world avatar) is utterly exposed, it’s more of me than I even know! or am capable of knowing … as Fred says in his post: (thank you Fred)


    Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

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