The smart lens is HERE.
Well… it’s gone through an initial patent filing. Close enough?
Digital trends (and everyone else) reported on Sony’s new patent for a contact lens that can record and play back video in summer 2016, but it made the rounds on Facebook again last week, so I’m giving it some blog love.
This post wont’ be about the dystopian implications of a society in which everyone constantly records all they see; Black Mirror—and countless short stories and think pieces—have already tread that ground (though I reserve the right to do so later J).
For the moment, I’m more fascinated by a short-term question: when the smart lens becomes commercially available, how long does it take for widespread societal adoption?
First, some technical details on the Sony patent (Samsung also filed a patent, and Google is working on the tech as well):
The smart lens will not constantly record video (unless you tell it to). Deliberate, slow blinks will initiate recording, the taking of pictures, and deleting/editing of video.
The lens will be powered by electromagnetic induction (Google’s is solar) and can stay on all day.
Autofocus, exposure adjustment, aperture adjustment, and zooming are all included capabilities.
The lens will allow you replay everything you record and view other information. The “other information” part is particularly interesting (and scary).
The lenses connect wirelessly for the uploading and downloading of data, but I’m not sure how blink-control will be complex enough for one to, say, surf the internet through your eyes. I’m sure user control will rapidly get more sophisticated.
How much will they cost? Don’t go swimming with them…
How long will they last? I’m guessing something between a day and a year.
How much native storage? The patent includes wireless communication for the lens, but it’s unclear how much video could be held natively in the device.
Will they be comfortable? I’ve worn contacts forever, and even a light breeze blows all kinds of crap into them. And late at night? Ouch.
Will they be visible to others? This is a big one. Will we be able to tell if someone is wearing a smart lens? Google Glass crashed and burned in large part because of this very issue.
I’ve often wondered if media representation will influence the pace of adoption. Black Mirror is probably the most well-known show to take on the smart lens, but it’s far from the only filmed entertainment to depict the technology. Smart lenses appear often in action and spy films as a benign technology. Ethan Hunt uses them in the Mission Impossible movies, and they regularly play a part in TV shows like Agents of SHIELD. In the Melissa McCarthy movie Spy, her contact lens both records video and allows others to watch through her eyes and offer remote assistance.
The smart lens is a “fun” tech in the movies because it’s only available to high-level government agencies ( and always the good guys). It only gets ugly when it leeches into everyone’s daily lives. So how does something like this normalize?
There are early adopters for every technology. I’ve written about the creepiest of them. But in the short term, every scary technology coming down the pipe will do wonderful things for some people suffering from debilitating illness or disability.
The medical field could be an avenue for popular adoption. As Kelly Hodgkins mentions in the Digital Trends article, Swiss scientists created “a pair of contact lenses with 2.8x zoom designed to help users with degenerative eye diseases.”
Would you begrudge a person going blind for trying out this technology? Didn’t think so. Tons of people have vision issues. When thousands of people achieve sight using the smart lens—and a little recording capacity thrown in—isn’t the technology normalized by default?
The smart lens probably won’t even require that much help to go mainstream. We have become addicted both to convenience and public documentation of our lives, and what’s more convenient than incorporating it into your own vision?
My gut tells me to fear these technologies—I doubt I’ll ever manage to be anything less than “highly suspicious.” But they are coming regardless, so I forced myself to brainstorm some aspects I might like.
- I can look back and see where I left my phone or wallet.
- That’s it. I tried!
Yes, the whole “dystopian creepy social state Black Mirror thing.” But I’m not treading that ground (yet).
Let’s stick with near-term. Imagine you’re an early adopter of the smart lens. What’s the most obvious practical negative?
You forget to blink them off after you begin recording, or you accidentally blink them on. You go to the bathroom, or commit some ultraviolence, or write about that unicorn fantasy your dream journal…
Then your smart lens—or wherever medium stores the video it records—gets hacked.
It’s bound to happen. I don’t doubt that the lens’s visual field will have a cue for active recording—a blinking dot, a coloration change, etc. But how fast does this become visual background noise for someone always using it?
Early adopters—mostly parents of young children, I’ll bet—will want to record entire events. Birthday parties, sports games, school plays, whatever. That means hours of straight recording at a single stretch. If it were me, I’d probably forget I was recording after the first five minutes, and I’d definitely forget to turn it off before gorging on a fourth helping of birthday cake.
Seriously, I can’t remember where I put my phone thirty seconds after I sit it down.
And what if you’ve had a few drinks? That’s when you least want your actions recorded AND when you’re least capable of realizing you’re doing exactly that.
Don’t drink and blink, kids.
The (partial) solution? Public blocking wireless signals. It’s gotta happen. Some establishments will block them entirely, and I suspect all public bathrooms will have to be fitted with some kind of full-spectrum wireless signal blocking.
This raises others issues. How many current commercial businesses could survive after blocking all wireless communications signals? Not one. But maybe we are headed toward a time when blocking wireless will help a restaurant thrive in the marketplace.
Sigh, so much to play with. But let’s wrap this up. How close are we to seeing these?
Sony’s patent application was filed in February 2014 and hasn’t even been reviewed yet, so I don’t think we need to worry about the smart lens hitting the market in 2017. By 2020? Possible. We just don’t have enough information yet to know what stage product development is in.
For now, take comfort in knowing that as you walk down the street, you’re only being recorded by several security feeds and multiple people shooting Instagram videos.
Any of you think you might go for this? What about those with children–not even when they were tiny and you never had a hand free to grab your camera?
Just think: ten years from now, you’ll look back on 2017 and think “ah, the simple life.” Enjoy.
*Every single article about the smart lens used the word “piezoelectric” with respect to their functionality. It was a new one to me. From Wiki: Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (like biological matter) in response to applied mechanical stress.