The cyborg surveillance societyWhen a new technology or system is introduced, we often feel curious and even a little afraid at the same time. The history of the media is a good example. As printing technology was introduced, some argued that metal type was satanic and undermined the sanctity of handwriting. In the early days of television, people were afraid that video images would destroy intellectual civilization. The same goes for the Internet. Critics were concerned that unverified information would spread and the society would be full of distrust. As society smoothly handled each of those concerns, these forms of media became mainstream.
Lately, Google Glass has been a controversial invention, garnering curiosity and concerns at the same time. It is a wearable smart device that can make online searches, phone calls and video recordings via audio command.
Just like the mask that Iron Man wears in the Hollywood blockbuster, a user can bring up a transparent screen by first saying, “OK, Glass,” and then giving a command to search or record a video. Dr. Im Dong-jin at Hanyang University says that secrecy and ingenuity are the essences of this device. Google made a prototype model for 1,000 users in May, and the feedback from those trials ignited many debates.
A 26-year-old woman whose legs and arms were disabled from a traffic accident has become able to communicate with the world again thanks to Google Glass, enabling her to make calls and connect to the Internet without using her hands. Naturally, she praised the new invention. Firefighters and emergency rescue workers also love the idea of sending images and videos of injured people and accident scenes to their headquarters immediately in order to reduce potential damage.
Game developers have focused on possible virtual reality games you could play through Google Glass. The adult video industry has welcomed the device, which can present life-like images to users. An adult application for Google Glass is already available.
However, there are as many opponents and critics as admirers. A documentary video producer captured a video of a person who was arrested by the police after getting into a fight on the street. When he posted the video online, it sparked controversy about possible privacy violations. Google Glass is closely attached to the movement of the eyes and can responds to delicate glances. Google Glass users can be like moving surveillance cameras.
Google Glass can also be used for crime. What if a Google Glass user stares at passersby, then searches the Internet to find their identities and addresses? Even if not used for crime, it is very strange to think that someone nearby may be quietly peeking into my private life. Because of these concerns, Starbucks stores in some areas of the United States ban Google Glass users.
Before modern science and technology was developed, the only means of tracking people was using people. Recorders, cameras and close-circuit televisions have replaced human eyes, and the introduction of Google Glass is just the latest form of social surveillance. Once the intelligent surveillance device is attached to human bodies, the combination of a human and a computer is like a cyborg.
People want to keep the device as close to the body as possible. Long-range communication has changed from signal fires to public phones to mobile phones. The desire to improve communications technology has led to Google Glass. Samsung, LG and Sony are developing smart watches. Soon enough, we will see computers on earrings or chips implanted in the human body. As the technological hurdles are lowered in the knowledge-convergence era, the rush of new products is likely to continue.
The emergence of magical glasses and watches can bring new life to some. They can be the seeds for new industries. At the same time, they can violate people’s privacy and enable crimes in whole new ways. The ongoing debate over Google Glass in the United States should be a lesson for Korea. We need to prepare a system and standards for the future. The cyborg surveillance society is fast approaching.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Gyu-yeon