With nuanced advancements in the world of technology currently running at an all-time high in the form of ‘smart’ eyewear, some members of society are up in arms about this progressive shift in innovation and how it’s fuelling our obsession with information sharing. As a freelance writer in the digisphere I, Zanda Simamane, have therefore decided that I’m feeling curious about social media and other mediums in combination with smart eyewear.
Despite the many benefits the smart eyewear revolution serves, public unrest has partly stemmed from some of the accessible features utilized from varying classifications on the smart eyewear spectrum.
Engineered to serve a myriad of different purposes, it’s pertinent to first define these categories, distinguish between their functions, and then establish the questionable elements of smart eyewear that are up for debate.
Distinguishing Between Different Types of Smart Eyewear
The two classifications smart eyewear fall under are delineated by a distinction between ‘Bionic Contact Lenses’ and ‘Smart Glasses’.
Bionic Contact Lenses
Described as a game-changer for the eye care industry, the bionic contact lens concept has finally been actualized after years of technological advancement and this latest innovation has proven effective in gifting perfect vision to patients suffering from various visual impairments.
Looking into the distance of the visual prospects of bionic lenses, our natural human lens limits us in how far we can see. This new piece of technology offers a solution to shortsightedness by removing the impairment altogether, allowing people to use their long vision to see virtually anything and everything more clearly.
With regards to visual ailments that have the propensity to affect one’s eyesight to a higher degree, bionic contact lens technology can ensure that cataracts in the eye no longer occur.
Resulting in cloudy vision when the human lens becomes less transparent, cataracts in the eye can be treated through bionic contact lens technology and people can start paving their way to clearer vision.
Another benefit of this high-tech lens is its ability to prevent glaucoma, described by the NHS as an eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain becomes damaged. Glaucoma can be caused when a cataractous lens releases toxic substances into the chamber of the eye.
Despite the groundbreakingly wondrous and life-changing benefits of bionic contact lens technology, it’s worth putting it on record that the innovation has its limitations, some of which include:
- Complete Curability – Bionic contact lenses, unfortunately, cannot cure everything including color blindness, cloudy corneas, and torn optic nerves.
- Cost – Each lens can set you back by thousands of pounds and this excludes the cost of surgery. Although with time, they’re likely to become cheaper, they’re currently not affordable to many people.
- An Unfair Visual Advantage – Since not everyone can afford this supersight technology, some would argue that it’s unfair that some people have significantly better vision than others with bionic lenses.
In contrast to the eyesight offerings of bionic contact lenses, the purpose of smart glasses has gradually veered away from eye care advancements in treating visual impairments.
Nevertheless, there’s merit in the earlier technological functionality of smart glasses that provide people who are severely sight impaired with eyewear that uses a camera and software to interpret nearby surroundings through spatial awareness systems that help with navigation and seeing both objects and people more distinctly.
Swiftly and seamlessly permeating into the online social arena, the overarching objective of smart glasses has shifted more towards technologically engineering wireless connectivity and imaging we enjoy on our home computers and cellphones into the frames and lenses of our eyewear.
Without showing complete disregard for their innovative functionality and boundless features, simply put, smart glasses are considered ‘phones for your face’.
Taking the principles of AR (augmented reality) to the next level through the development of smart glasses, there are several reasons why companies and the general public are buying into this eye-opening innovation, some of which include:
- More Collaborative Interactivity – With the pandemic making a massive impact on our daily routines and how we work, a set of AR smart glasses allows people to virtually interact more frequently and gives way for companies to leverage new levels of collaboration to work on complex tasks like never before.
- Elevated Customer Service – With augmented reality providing opportunities to create unique digital experiences that blend the physical world with digital content, smart glasses can help make these experiences even more immersive.
- Better Training and Education – Through the enmeshment of the real and digital worlds, AR smart glasses can make training experiences amongst students and employees feel more realistic, subsequently leading to better information retention.
With innovators pursuing to pioneer their revolutionary products to technological perfection, the top 3 products currently spearheading the progressive smart glasses movement include:
Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook has since teased Apple’s future AR plans with promises of the company investing in the area. Although not an official confirmation, this does suggest Apple’s plans for more AR spaces beyond what’s currently available on iOS.
Xiaomi Smart Glasses
Capable of taking calls, real-time translations, navigation, and so much more, Chinese designer and manufacturer Xiaomi Inc. insist that these smart glasses are the future.
Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories
Developed in partnership with Facebook and EssilorLuxottica, Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses offer new ways to capture photos and videos for online users to instantly share freely on their social media feeds. Among its many features, Ray-Ban Stories eyewear allows its users to listen to music, take phone calls, and stay present with friends, family, and the daily happenings of the world around us in real-time.
Due to the rapid pace of information sharing and policy changes on online content sharing platforms like YouTube, the massive appeal of these new-age products and prototypes is seeing manufacturers pay closer attention to the online community through their privacy policies in an attempt to ensure safe and responsible usage of their technology.
Despite the efforts made, counterarguments to the emergence of smart eyewear have since been vocalized through public upheaval over this latest digital innovation and its potential to introduce a formidable threat to privacy.
Peering Into the Smart Eyewear Backlash
While these advancements in wearable technology are substantial steps toward the future, smart eyewear presents many privacy and security concerns in the following ways:
- Covert surveillance of private meetings dealing with sensitive information.
- Unconsented recordings of intimate interactions.
- Violations of stalking laws.
- Susceptibility to hacking, malfunction, and involuntary use.
- Social harms, with technology being even more of an intimate, integral part of daily life.
This could also add a new dimension to the discussion of law enforcement body cameras and government surveillance of its citizens.
These concerns hold considerable weight to the smart eyewear privacy debate.
Exploring Ethical Concerns Associated with Bionic Contact Lenses
With regards to the ethical dilemma surrounding bionic vision technology, it’s difficult to determine how open to misinterpretation a patient’s perception may be, which poses a potential infringement upon individual autonomy to an unknown degree.
For example, the inability of patients to distinguish between numbers and read fine text means that misinterpretation could result in material losses beyond their control when managing their finances.
Additionally, misinterpreting facial expressions may skew a person’s judgement in a social context and misreading crucial information like street signs could put them in harm’s way.
At the time of interpreting these perceptions, patients will have no way of knowing how truthful a representation of reality their prosthetically induced perception actually is.
Measuring How Smart ‘Smart Glasses’ are About Security and Protection
Concerned about having their privacy protected, the introduction of smart glasses has sparked controversy amongst unwilling bystanders of the social innovations features with regards to image/video capturing and online information sharing.
So naturally, the Wallstreet Journal set out to put Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories to the test. In September 2021, Wallstreet Journal columnist Joanna Stern shared her findings of how she used Facebook’s smart glasses to embark on a hidden-camera social experiment that saw very few people realise they were being recorded:
“Not one spotted the cameras or the recording light until I told them. So as to not invade their privacy, I told all of them quickly after I started rolling, and deleted footage upon request. These Ray-Bans just look normal. That’s what makes them so cool, but also makes them, well, spy glasses.”
Taking these valid privacy concerns into consideration, Facebook and Luxottica have since issued responses to the public’s assertion that their smart eyewear products harbour implications of modern-day spy gear:
- A 30-second video limit is set so users can’t record people at length without their knowledge.
- Before using the glasses, the Facebook View app instructs users to explain the LED light to others and provides further guidance on appropriate behavior.
- The companies will launch a website explaining the privacy protections, and a marketing campaign to let people know these camera glasses exist.
When collating the positive and negative factors currently impacting the emergence of the smart eyewear revolution, it’s evident that the leaps and bounds this groundbreaking technology is offering the community at large holds more of an advantageous edge over ethical implications and public concerns involving privacy protection – although the counter arguments made are valid in their own right.
As technology continues to advance, innovators will continue to develop more protective technological measures to reinforce and safeguard public privacy whilst new norms start to surface as people get used to these new types of smart devices.
Until we enter a digital age that rids us of all potential privacy infringements across the board, the power to act responsibly when operating this advanced level of technology will always be left in the hands of the user and this is, unfortunately, something the public is incapable of controlling for the time being.