Wearable technology, particularly eyewear, continues to make strides. In May, Sony filed a patent for “smart” contact lenses. Among other features, the lenses would function as tiny cameras – capturing photos or recording videos, and storing them for future viewing or playback.
A key feature of the lenses is that the recorders can differentiate between a wearer’s deliberate and natural blinking. The deliberate blinks activate the recorders.
A set of sophisticated technologies make this possible. According to the patent: “In the case where the user presses an end of his/her eyelid in a state in which the eyelid is closed, such press is sensed by the piezoelectric [pressure] sensor, and thus the switch can be turned on…”
It’s important to note that thus far this is only a patent application that is still awaiting approval – no product or prototype exist. Slash Gear notes that Sony may not even have the technology for it yet, and are rather either entertaining the possibility of developing it or safeguarding the idea from others in the future.
In fact, the technology that the smart contacts would require seem to be at least a while away. Mashable comments that “the sophistication of the these smart contact lenses requires technology that wouldn’t fit comfortably on a lens,” while The Verge notes that “this sort of tech is still in the very early stage: the ‘screens’ that have been put in contact lenses are tiny, and the electronics are limited to simple circuits.”
Potential Positive Effects
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t start theorizing about the effects that these lenses could have on the way we live. These effects will likely be both positive and negative.
On the plus side, the ability to record and playback our experiences means that we no longer have to solely rely on our often faulty memories. As Futurism notes, our memory of an event can be quite different from what actually transpired. By accessing the internal storage of Sony’s prospective lenses, we could easily playback whatever recordings we wanted to see.
It could also lead to greater accountability for institutions such as the police. Knowing that citizens have smart contacts that could be used to discreetly record them at any sign of misconduct could discourage them from abusing their authority.
Sony’s smart contacts could also propel citizen journalism. Not Impossible Now notes that the contacts could be “the first truly immersive way to share a point of view”. The contacts would not only make it easier and more convenient for users to record breaking events (at the blink of an eye), but also provide viewers of the recordings with a more immersive, hyperrealistic, point of view. Thus, people in conflict-ridden areas could record with greater ease, and others could get a clearer idea of the situation on the ground.
Potential Negative Effects
On the other hand, the smart contacts could potentially bring negative ramifications. First, there could be privacy concerns, akin to the ones that plagued Google Glass. In a world where a sizable portion of the population wear smart contacts, people may feel uneasy or uncomfortable knowing that they may be being recorded without their knowledge, and may feel more behaviorally repressed, e.g. not being able to be themselves, as a result.
Further, the ability to playback recordings may not always be a good thing, as it could lead us to over-scrutinize and misinterpret past events and details. An episode of the TV show Black Mirror, which presents a world where users have a recording technology similar to smart contacts, aptly demonstrates this. The main character becomes completely obsessed with re-watching clips of prior events to determine if his wife is cheating. Though he is able to deduct the truth as a result, his subsequent spiral into insanity serves as a forewarning for the darker qualities, like paranoia, that smart contact lenses could bring out in us.
Many believe that it’s not a matter of if eyewear such as smart contacts are adopted by the general public, but when. It is thus time to start thinking about about how they could affect our daily lives, which includes brainstorming ways to fully harness the positive power they could have, while addressing the privacy concerns and other negative effects that could come with them.