Smart glasses make Google look stupid. Now Facebook is giving them a try. - New York Times

2021-12-08 06:54:48 By : Mr. Kelvin Lee

The company worked with Ray-Ban to develop glasses that can take photos, record videos, answer calls, and play podcasts.

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San Francisco-Last Saturday, after a three-mile hike through the Presidio, I stood among a group of tourists looking at the Golden Gate Bridge. When the crowd took photos of the landmark, I decided to join in.

But instead of reaching into my pocket to take out my iPhone, I tapped the side of Ray-Ban sunglasses until I heard the shutter click. Later, I downloaded the photos I just took with my sunglasses to my phone.

The process is instant, simple, and unobtrusive-it is supported by Facebook, which collaborates with Ray Ban. Their new glasses series is called Ray-Ban Stories and was released on Thursday. It can take pictures, record videos, answer phone calls, and play music and podcasts.

All this makes me feel that I was dragged into a real world by the inevitable future dreamed of by people more technical than me. The seam between the real world and the technology that supports it has almost disappeared.

For years, Silicon Valley has been pursuing a vision similar to William Gibson’s novels, integrating sensors and cameras into the daily lives and clothing of billions of people. However, technology companies pursuing these ideas often fail to realize them because people avoid wearable computers—especially on their faces.

Remember Google Glass, the smart glasses that Google co-founder Sergey Brin launched when he jumped from a plane? The project ended in failure, and San Francisco bars once banned people wearing glasses (also called "Glassholes") from entering. Later appeared Snap's Spectacles, this smart glasses focused more on fashion and the novelty of recording a 10-second video clip. The product has never really broken through.

Now, Facebook’s goal is to usher in an era in which people can share their lives digitally more freely, starting with the things in front of them.

"We asked ourselves, how do we build a product that helps people really do this at the moment they are?" Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook's reality lab, said in an interview. "Isn't this better than having to take out the phone and put it in front of you every time you want to capture the moment?"

Mr. Bosworth dismissed the claim that Facebook is recovering from where everyone else stopped. "This product has never been tried before, because we have never had such a design before," he said, adding that Facebook and Ray-Ban are more concerned with the fashion of glasses than the technology in the frames.

"Glasses are a very special category that will change your appearance," said Rocco Basilico, chief wearable device officer of Luxottica, who owns Ray-Ban and wants to expand into the wearable device market. "We started this product from the design, and we refused to compromise on that design."

Let's be real. The new glasses start at US$299 and come in more than 20 styles. In addition to Silicon Valley’s history of discontinuing smart glasses, it also faces obstacles. Facebook has been under scrutiny for a long time because of how it handles people's personal data. Using glasses to secretly photograph people is certainly a cause for concern, not to mention what Facebook might do with the videos people collect.

I asked whether Facebook’s brand baggage was because its name did not appear in the title of the glasses. The company stated that this is not the case.

“Facebook is not naive about the fact that other smart glasses have failed in the past,” said Jeremy Greenberg, a future policy adviser at the Privacy Protection Forum, a privacy non-profit organization partially funded by Facebook. However, he added, “Since the previous smart glasses were released, the public’s expectations for privacy have changed.”

With all this in mind, I took my new Facebook Ray-Bans out for a drive for a few days in the past week.

After careful inspection, I found two cameras, two micro speakers, three microphones and a Snapdragon computer processor chip inside the frame. They also come with a charging case that can be plugged into any computer via a USB-C cable. After fully charged, the glasses can be used for about six hours.

The glasses require a Facebook account. They are also paired with the smartphone app Facebook View. After recording the video—the glasses can record up to 35 30-second videos or take 500 photos—people can upload their content wirelessly to the app, where the photos are encrypted. From Facebook View, people can share content to their social networks or messaging applications, or they can save photos directly to mobile device storage outside of the Facebook application.

To avoid privacy issues, when the glasses are recording, a small indicator light will flash to inform people that they are being photographed or filmed. When you set up the Facebook View app, it will also display a prompt asking the user to "respect the people around you" and asking whether it "feels right" to take a photo or video right now. The app even invites people to "make a small presentation" to show others that they are being recorded.

Nevertheless, users may have other hesitations, just like me. The glasses have an audio activation function called Facebook Assistant, which can be turned on by saying "Hey, Facebook" to take hands-free photos and videos.

The troubled tech giant. An internal document leaked by a former Facebook employee gave people a closer look at the operation of the secret social media company and once again called for better supervision of the company’s wide-ranging impact on its users’ lives.

How it started. In September, the Wall Street Journal published a Facebook document, a series of reports based on leaked documents. The evidence disclosed in this series shows that Facebook used the company name Meta on October 28 to understand that one of its products is worsening the body image problem of teenagers.

informer. In the "60 Minutes" interview aired on October 3, Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, who left the company in May, revealed that she was responsible for the leakage of these internal documents.

Testimony of Ms. Hogan in Congress. On October 5, Ms. Haogen testified before the Senate Subcommittee, saying that Facebook was willing to use hateful and harmful content on its website to attract users back. Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, called her accusations false.

Facebook papers. Ms. Haugen also filed a complaint with the US Securities and Exchange Commission and provided the edited document to Congress. A congressional worker then provided these files (called Facebook files) to multiple news organizations, including the New York Times.

New revelation. The files in the Facebook file show how well Facebook understands the extremist groups on its website that try to divide American voters before the election. They also revealed that internal researchers have repeatedly determined how key Facebook functions amplify toxic content on the platform.

For me, this is a sticking point. What do people around me think when they hear me say "Hey, Facebook, take a picture"? Can I still look cool when I do this? Can anyone please?

More importantly, in order to help Facebook improve the assistant, people are required to allow devices to store their voice interaction records, which will be reviewed later by a mixture of human and machine learning algorithms. I don't like that, and imagine that other people will not be too enthusiastic, no matter how benign their voice interaction is.

(You can choose not to use the assistant. If necessary, users can view and delete their transcripts.)

For technologists who believe that wearable devices are ruthless to society, many of these privacy issues are irrelevant. For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the ultimate goal is to finally release a pair of fully augmented reality smart glasses that put a virtual overlay on the world in front of people.

This idea is another step towards the meta-universe. Mr. Zuckerberg uses this term to describe how the various parts of the virtual world and the real world will eventually merge together and share different parts of each other. Maybe one day I might use a pair of Facebook AR glasses to order a digital hat for myself, and other people wearing AR glasses might see it.

During the walking tour last Saturday, I could see the future vision of Facebook executives very excited.

Climbing along the many trails of the Presidio, I saw a dazzling view. I could shoot with only my voice while still holding my dog’s leash in one hand and my backpack in the other. Capturing the city view is as easy as issuing a voice command when my phone is in my pocket.

Even better, I look like an ordinary person wearing sunglasses, not a person wearing a computer with a weird face.

An added bonus is that when I am alone on the trail, no one (except my dog) can hear me say "Hey, Facebook". But in a crowded city, I admit that I might insist on clicking the side of the frame to take pictures.