Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Human Augmentation

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird – A series where ScienceBlog.com blogger joebowman takes a look at new technologies and the ways they affect people and society.

In a world where continually evolving technology is changing the way people interact with the digital and physical worlds, the first genuine hands-free technology may be just around the corner. Rest assured that new advancements in smart device manipulation will do much to make people seem even weirder than today.

The hand is quicker than the eye, but the eye is way cooler

If you follow the geeks of Silicon Valley then you may have noticed Google co-founder, Sergi Brin sporting a stylish and decidedly futuristic looking eye piece at recent events.

Google_Glass

A sly introduction for one of Google’s most anticipated technologies, Project Glass promises to liberate Humans from the tyranny of using one’s own hands. Calling it, ‘Augmented Reality’, this latest effort by Google hints at a future where buttons and switches become hilarious vestiges of more primitive eras in Human history.

While Google is primarily known for its search engine dominance it is actually advertising that drives corporate profits. In fact, only about 1,100 employees in the AdWords division of Google generates revenue for the worldwide operation of 20k employees. So, at the end of the day, and no matter how hard they try it is the advertising business that Google’s namesake symbolizes. Industry insiders quickly point to a dystopian future where ads and offers are stuck in the eye, literally.

Google was quick to point out that there will be no advertisements on the new devices. Yet, for a company with the motto, ‘don’t be evil’ and a technology that hasn’t doesn’t hit developers’ hot little hands until 2013, much will certainly change between now and when these smart devices are available for consumers.

No glove, no love

Not to be outdone by its own self, Google has recently patented a glove-like device that integrates sensors and control points that may open up even more possibilities for changing the way people interact with technology. With the potential to put cameras at your fingertips, again literally, Google Glove may make the average user an explorer of all types of crevasses. Imagine a world where people can peer into any orifice accessible to a finger or a world where American Sign Language becomes a common way to physically dictate text. Perhaps this is where transdermal drugs and smart device technology finally grants the Pharmaceutical industry unfettered access to your bloodstream over the Internet.

Predicting the ill effects of technologies still unrealized is easy, finding real world applications that will enhance productivity is another story.

These technologies may be years away in terms of augmenting our lives in a meaningful way but they speak volumes about where smart device technology is headed. As new advances change the way people perceive and interact with the world the more old customs and courtesies fall away.

In previous editions of Your Smart Device is Making You Weird, I talked about a family out at dinner, happily sitting in silence as each was engrossed by their smart devices, now mix in some Augmented Reality eyepieces and glove control gear and you have a scene that can only be described as ‘weird’.

If you are like many people, you are already thinking how ridiculous these upcoming advances in technology seem. You may be right, but remember that you said the same thing about that smart phone charging on your desk and the Bluetooth headset in your ear.

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: GPS Induced Stupidity

isliderWhen a technology becomes reliable to a certain level people tend to free themselves from thought and responsibility to varying degrees.  Take for example the Global Position System (GPS), once an important tool limited to military applications, GPS is now standard and rightfully expected by consumers purchasing mobile devices, vehicles and more.

Whether you are in your car, on foot, or just planning an outing you are in need of direction and location information.  And, few technologies give quite as much assurance as GPS-aided navigation.

Our main thinking point for today’s article is this:

What happens when people over-rely on a convenience technology that is not necessarily always accurate?  If people stop thinking for themselves then what happens to the rest of us?

You be the judge, here are a few snippets from news stories around the web highlighting some of the not-so-great moments of GPS Induced Stupidity in another installment of a segment I like to call, Your Smart Device is Making You Weird.

The 32-year-old man, a computer maven, was on temporary assignment for an I.B.M. contractor in New York and wandered through the rolling hills here one evening, trusting in the cyber-driven intelligence of his car’s G.P.S. device rather than his own. As a result, according to Metro-North, he ended up making a right turn onto the railroad tracks and getting the undercarriage of his rented Ford Focus wedged between the rails. The man calmly hauled out his suitcase, called 911 and waited to wave the train to a stop. But the train couldn’t brake in time and ended up dragging the car for 100 feet until it burst into a fireball.

Read it Here

Most tales of GPS-Induced Stupidity do not end in fiery carnage (yet), but we see from this snippet that not even tech savvy people are safe from technology related ignorance.

A Bavarian man was given a persuasive lesson in the fallibility of technology Thursday night when he crashed into another car and injured an 11-year-old boy after obeying his car navigation device’s command to turn around on a divided autobahn.

Amazingly, the man, 45, took a U-turn on the divided motorway and began driving down the wrong side because the satellite navigation computer told him to turn around, police said in a statement.

Read it Here

Strange as it may sound, there is no replacement for using one’s eyes to aid in the operation of motor vehicles or heavy machinery.

The teen, who had two juveniles in the car with him in violation of the state’s graduated license rules, was headed westbound on Route 33 in his Ford Mustang when, he told police, his GPS told him to make a left turn onto Sweetmans Lane, police said.

The 17-year-old cut across the eastbound lanes of Route 33 and struck a vehicle on the left side at about 7:50 p.m. Saturday, according to police. The impact turned that car around 180 degrees before it came to rest facing oncoming traffic. The driver of that vehicle was taken to an area hospital after complaining of neck pain.

A third car struck the rear bumper of the Mustang, pushing that car into a spin before it too came to rest facing the eastbound oncoming traffic. A fourth vehicle traveling in the eastbound lanes swerved left to avoid the multiple car accident scene, when that car struck the curbed median, damaging both right-side tires, and rolling into the westbound lanes before coming to a stop.

The 17-year-old driver, from the Morganville section of Marlboro, was issued motor vehicle summonses for careless driving, making an improper turn and violating the terms of his provisional driver’s license.

 Read it Here

Of course, we expect poor judgment from young drivers so this is perhaps not the best example of GPS Induced Stupidity. You can view disturbing statistics related to young drivers here.

Three young women escaped the sinking Mercedes-Benz SUV after the vehicle’s GPS directed them down a boat launch and into the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, Washington.

The driver thought she was on a road while following her GPS unit just after midnight, but she was actually heading down the boat launch. All three women made out safely, but the SUV was completely under water. Officials said the three were in town for a conference and were trying to get to a hotel in Bellevue.

“They were trying to re-route their path and found this boat launch near the entrance to I-90 in South Bellevue and just kept driving into the water,” Mr Keenan said.

Read it Here

760px-Conformity_Hazard

As amusing as these stories are they may speak to something larger about Human nature in terms of technology. Perhaps there is a natural expectation that technology will someday alleviate most of the ‘burdens’ people experience in their daily lives.  Even if this were the case such a thing is surely far into the future.

Only you as an individual can truly be responsible for your own safety, but when others fall prey to over reliance on technology or mere stupidity you may find that there is only so much you can do to prevent the consequences of GPS Induced Stupidity.

Your Smart Device is Making You Weird: Digital Youth

Here we are with another installment of ‘Your Smart Device is Making you Weird’ where I bring you my observations on the subtle changes in people and society as a result of Convenience Technology:  Tablets, Phones, and Pads.

joebowman.scienceblog.com – If you want to know what the future holds for a given population you need only observe their children. Where as you or I have grown into and adopted convenience technology as we have moved through life, those of us born in more recent years will have had cellular phones and various technological implements thrust at them starting from early ages.  Some could say this is ‘lazy parenting’ while others (parents) would extol the virtues of devices that not only connects them to the world but placates children as well.  Regardless, it is something not entirely minor that separates these generations and those that came before.

In my last segment on ‘Your Smart Device is Making you Weird’ I wondered about a young family I saw in passing with each member gazing into their own device.  One of the family members was a young child of about 2-4 years of age who was hypnotized by the glowing screen of a mobile phone.

What was not apparent to me at the time was the fact that this scenario is not unique, in fact quite the opposite seems to be true the more I pay attention.  And, if it is happening in my sleepy suburban town (Pleasant Hill, CA) it is surely happening in many more places. You may have even seen this yourself as you observe children with their parents in public or even at your own family gatherings.  The scene is always the same, the children are surprisingly quiet and well behaved as they cradle a mobile device in their tiny hands.

I took the elevator from the parking garage on the way to work trying to compensate for being late by quickly scanning emails and text messages.  A woman entered just behind me and and smiled broadly remarking that her husband loves his iPad (mine is actually a Samsung Galaxy Tab).  Sensing my opportunity to gain additional perspective I mentioned the trend of young children on devices. The woman (a mother of a young child as it turned out) proudly let me know that her child had their own mobile WiFi only device.  Not noticing the bemused expression on my face the woman went about her way. I spent some time afterwards looking at statistics wondering about the woman and her tech savvy child.

The accompanying chart shows usage statistics by age group using data collected in 2010.  I recreated the chart in Excel using some conditional highlighting rules to show how the data trends as users grow into adulthood.  Note the green arrows showing the high values.

Regardless of whether you view children using technology as a good or bad omen for the future one thing stands out: not only are children spending ever increasing amounts of time using technology, they are doing so at increasingly younger ages.

The thing that keeps going through my head is the fact that you can’t gain or change something without giving up or changing something else in return.