SAN FRANCISCO – A new line of enhanced eyewear continues to raise eyebrows across the tech industry because of the ‘extrasensory’ perception the sunglasses afford users and the dangers they may pose non-users.
With Google and Bionic Vision Australia pushing the boundaries of virtual and real-life eyesight in recent years, the release of Rocket & Gamble’s Radicals – a hybrid of augmented and bionic eyewear – stunned attendants at last week’s Exponential tech conference because of the ‘otherworldly’ field of vision the sunglasses provide wearers — and the possibility that those falling within the sunglasses’ field of vision might become victims of piracy, manipulation and fraud, some experts claimed.
“Radicals are very much worthy of their name, because they are such a radical departure from anything in their class of enhanced eyewear we’ve yet seen,” said Arthur Groves, a University of California Berkeley ethics professor and one of the handful of people invited to try the sunglasses and report his experience to the media in the days following Exponential. “The line between what constitutes private versus public information has never been so dangerously blurred with these sunglasses, and so the potential for this product to serve and harm the general public cannot be understated.”
Last Wednesday, popular tech blogger Chuck Shaw donned a pair of Radicals and wowed crowds at the popular Exponential tech expo on behalf of his latest employer Rocket & Gamble, a corporate conglomerate known for subsidiaries in military manufacturing and the gaming industry.
Shaw strolled the aisles of a large auditorium in a flashy gray suit and the bright blue 80s-style bifocals, said Amelia Grace, 37, a tech representative who attended the event.
According to Grace, Shaw rattled off a litany of buys best suited members of the audience through voice modification techniques and hand gesticulations that controlled an influx of information, which Shaw claimed flooded his field of vision through a cyberspace overlay.
“Mr. Shaw described to us what he was seeing, such as brand names, image icons and product prices that were projected through his lenses and superimposed over the crowd as we watched him,” said Grace.
The effect was comical, according to Grace, who described Shaw’s mannerisms as those one might expect from a “middle-aged salesman acting like a space-age auctioneer.”
The information was transmitted to Shaw via a Rocket & Gamble supercomputer, according to company literature about the product’s specifications. There are twelve ‘lenses’ through which those wearing Radicals might view the world, and of which Shaw’s setting for ‘direct marketing’ was one.
During the exhibition, Shaw approached multiple tech representatives in attendance and conveyed intimate personal information about them in an attempt to persuade them to purchase products.
“It was as if he were a mind reader,” said Grace. “He seemed to know exactly what everyone wanted or needed.”
Shaw approached a darkly-clad female — who did not wear a name tag — and he identified her by name and nationality.
“It’s nice to meet you, Rene Mellefont, from France,” said Shaw.
Shaw explained to the crowd that he was able to seem so ‘psychic’ because Radicals are capable of performing retinal scans of individuals up-close and then cross-reference information from the scan with Rocket & Gamble’s supercomputer and worldwide database networks, so that important details about a person surface within the wearer’s field of vision and are immediately available to be exploited.
In this case, Shaw explained that the retinal scan provided by the Radicals managed to identify Mellefont through an American immigration services database from her flight into San Francisco International that morning, which then cross-referenced information about her from her native country, including her hometown, residential and work address, the weather there, names of immediate living relatives, as well as critical health information about Mellefont extrapolated from French government medical records and consumer demographic meta data drawn from credit reports, retailers Mellefont frequents, and even food purchases she made during a recent trip to the grocery store.
Shaw said he was able to access and use this information by swiping and mumbling at a variety of prompts that appeared above his view of Mellefont.
“You’re a senior sales professional for Citroen’s advanced automotive sales division, is that correct?” said Shaw.
“Yes,” said Mellefont.
“You are five feet, three inches tall, without heels, but I won’t name your age or weight because you’re female and French and I do not want to come off as some rude American asshole.”
“Okay, thank you,” said Mellefont, noticeably nervous, and members of the audience laughed.
“So, you have a four-bedroom house in the town of Mount Blanc, where you were born and have lived most of your life, except when you went away to Paris for college, where you graduated with a business degree from the Sorbonne,” said Shaw. “You live with your 11-year-old son, Jaques, and daughter, Maria, who are fraternal twins through in vitro fertilization. You are single and have never been married, something you regret, as you wish your children had a father, which has been listed among the reasons you take the anti-anxiety medicine Paxil that was prescribed for you three years ago. You also have two Siamese cats, one named Bebe, the other Bobo, both of which you have registered with your local pet agency.”
“Wow,” said Mellefont, and Shaw pressed his fingers to her lips.
“Here’s the really ‘wow’ part, ma’am,” said Shaw. “You do not own a dog, although your children want one, as evidenced by the leash they bought on your credit card and was cited in an inspector’s report as cause for a fire that started over your mantel where they left the leash dangling for you to notice last Christmas Eve. The damage to your home was paid on an insurance policy, which subsequently has increased your rates and has been a source of some discomfort, based on the multiple calls you logged into your sales agent.”
The auditorium was silent. Shaw removed the Radicals, and for a moment he stared at Mellefont through unaugmented eyes.
“So, Ms. Mellefont, after everything I just told you, don’t you think it’s time you give in to your kids’ wish and let them have that dog they want so badly?” said Shaw. “It’s literally not an issue worth losing your house over, and I’m sure these glasses could help me come up with a few breeds that might work for your family that you could you buy.”
There was great laughter, applause and a standing ovation.
Following the Radicals unveiling at Exponential, Groves said he wore the Radicals and toured his Alameda Island neighborhood.
“I stooled up at a local craft brewery, glad to avoid the beer shortage ravaging the rest of the nation, and I was amazed how easy it was to pick up customer credit card numbers, signature styles — even fingerprints off the glasses from which patrons drank – and that was only from using the Radicals bionic eye features,” said Groves. “Nor were people’s passwords safe, because anytime anyone in the room dialed or said their password into a phone, I could see or hear the code, and the sunglasses automatically recorded any information I memorized incorrectly, or missed all together.”
Groves said his experience with the Radicals alarmed him greatly, and he was grateful to have won a lottery slot at the Exponential to offer the media his feedback about the new line of eyewear.
“In my opinion, Radicals are many, many things, including a criminal’s wet dream,” said Groves. “Any possible way I could conceive of deceiving, defrauding, thieving or burglarizing people around me — those shades practically showed me the way to do it. I fear they will not only be used to help blind people cross streets, but that they will also be used as weapons.”
One major threat the Radicals pose the public which has been largely overlooked, according to Groves, is that they have been designed using unprecedented amounts of aggregate private information that has been diffused through years of social media use, and by the deliberate corporate manipulation of the Freedom of Information Act, he said.
“We have seen in recent years an eroding of our private rights directly commensurate with the rise of digital technology,” said Groves. “Government agencies and private companies have been collecting information on us, and now through loopholes in the laws they are essentially working together to use the information for their own benefit. Our society is evolving into a techno-oligarchy that is simply getting out of hand. Big Brother is keeping an eye on us, but who is keeping an eye on him? There really is no such thing as private information anymore, and Rocket & Gamble clearly intends to capitalize on this reality they helped engineer.”
Elizabeth Turner, 28, a Rocket & Gamble spokesperson, acknowledged that Radicals had features unlike other enhanced eyewear to date, but that this fact should not be misconstrued as cause for alarm.
“It’s true, we live in ever-changing times, and our company is proud to help reflect this change,” said Turner. “The type of enhanced eyewear we offer has broad practical uses that go far beyond direct marketing, entertainment or common thievery. For example, we expect Radicals to have major implications on the battlefield in coming years. I for one can’t imagine a better device to assist our armed service men and women who are out there to protect our freedoms.”
Despite the claim, representatives from rival tech companies such as Code Black said they already have begun to develop countermeasures to deter some of the private information Radicals already pilfer from the public.
“Right now we are developing an untraceable contact lens, and of course if you are really concerned about people reading your fingerprints, you can always wear gloves,” said Arnold Test, 43, Code Black senior executive. “Seriously, so long as there is a market to undermine private rights, there will also be a market to address such grievances. The history of war is really a history of ever-evolving tech.”
Julie Moreland, June 26, 2016