Glass Surrogates

Google Glass rolls out later this year. The commonly discussed applications have focused on receiving timely notifications and recording video from first-person, but in the hands of developers, many more ideas will emerge. One possibility I haven’t encountered is surrogates. Like all things Glass, a potentially transformative and empowering possibility teetering right on the creepy line.

A Glass surrogate is best exemplified by Larry Mittleman in Arrested Development’s third season (“Middleman”, get it? Portrayed to comedy perfection by Bob Einstein).

While bedroom-bound, George Bluth recruits the surrogate to walk through the world on his command, say what he says, do what he commands.

Being equipped with streaming mic and camera, the surrogate is starting to look awfully familiar in a world of Glass.

One area where this will likely happen is “commodified outsourcing”, an industry that’s already moved on from desk-bound eLance/oDesk type work to real-world delegation, a la Exec and TaskBunny.

These services let you post errands that will be conducted in fleshspace (delivery, cleaning, lining up for tickets, etc). These contractors will already be using their phones to send photos and converse with their providers. I’d be surprised if these workers weren’t standard-issued with Glass devices in a year or two. A busy person could send the surrogate to the store and provide instructions once the surrogate is there. So the busy person only needs to be engaged during the 10 minutes of actual shopping, instead of the hour it takes to visit the store and return.

On a grander scale, a well-located surrogate might save someone a timely overseas trip.

It’s more than just saving time. Some people are physically immobile or find it impractical to travel any length. For them, a surrogate would be the closest thing to being physically present.

This will also take shape in professions where telepresence is emerging. Medicine, for example. A surrogate medical specialist (maybe doctor, maybe not) would perform procedures on behalf of a remote doctor.

You can also see how a manager will be able to flip between worker’s points of view like flipping between CC cameras, even if said workers are in the field. They might be physically labouring on the factory floor or juniors in a business meeting, where the big boss might jump in and out. This is definitely a potentially creepy scenario, but one that would have immense training and feedback benefits.

Far-fetched? Consider that one of the services I mentioned above already does this in its own way. oDesk lets providers view periodic screenshots of contractors. When I’ve provided contracts this way, I haven’t used this facility often because I hire motivated workers and manage workflow in other ways (e.g. Trello), but it can be useful in a remote working context to check a contractor is on the right track. Glass would take all that out to the real world.

There are many ethical and well-being concerns here. I imagine this can quickly become a scenario where managers are able to view all their workers’ perspectives and chime in as “a voice of God” to direct their work. These scenarios will definitely need to be ironed out and as with other areas of Glass, etiquette and conventions will emerge.

Side note: The movie Surrogates is another example, but unlike Arrested Development, these surrogates are humanoid robots which is one or two AI generations removed from the imminent Glass scenario.

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