Zero Calvin was published in November of 2003. In it, I describe lenses/glasses that are worn over the eye which are both video screens on the inside and cameras on the outside. They work in conjunction with PCs (short for Personal Communicators) to form the core user interface to the Ariel System (part Internet, part artificially intelligent pro-active search engine). Here is how I described both PCs and Display lenses in the book:
“PCs are an integral part of the Ariel system. They are the human interface to Ariel and essentially turn every human into a node on the network. You might consider them the natural progression of the cellular phone you had in your days.
“PCs are small, flesh-colored devices implanted behind the ear. Aural input to the brain is provided by directly coupling a mechanical transducer inside the PC to the malleus bone inside the ear. Coupling is accomplished via a tiny rod that passes through a small incision in the back of the ear. This allows the PC to create sound inside the wearer’s head without making any audible sound waves, thus keeping incoming voice messages and music private to the wearer.
“In a similar fashion, a connection is made from the stapes bone in the ear to the PC. This is used as the audio input to the device, turning one’s own ear into a microphone. It is worth noting that with the proper control circuitry, this system can be used as a hearing aid for the elderly or a hearing enhancement for anyone.
“Visual I/O is a little trickier. The standard method of providing optical input to the wearer of the PC is via display lenses. Display lenses are nothing more than lenses that act like a camera on the outside, and a video screen on the inside. They can be purchased from any retail electronics store and come in an almost infinite number of designs, everything from Sony’s classically designed iWear to Oakley’s outrageous X-Specs.
“During normal operation, the lenses simply display exactly what the camera sees, thus appearing to the wearer to be transparent. Most models come with luminescence attenuation and boosting — a fancy way of saying sunglasses and night-vision. Some of the more exotic models offer cool features like: thermal imaging, infrared imaging, ultra sonic imaging, and fitness imaging. This last one might be new to you; it makes the wearer’s husband or wife look more fit and attractive than they actually are.
“Apart from enhancing the wearer’s vision, the lenses also display text and video from the Ariel system. This enables them to receive text messages from friends, family, co-workers, and Ariel herself. It also allows them to watch TV, movies, or any other video source, look-up and read information on any subject, and view controls for the objects around them.
“The lenses are physically attached to a person’s face by small metal tabs that fit inside small flesh-colored sockets along the inside circumference of the eye socket. The metal tabs double as the electrical contacts for the display lenses. Wires are run subdermally from the eye sockets to the PCs behind the ears.”
“Now, you may be wondering how on earth one is meant to control the PC. Well, Zero, wonder no more. There are many different ways to control the PC. The most common method is via a touch-sensitive panel attached to the back of the teeth. By rubbing and pressing their tongue along the back of their teeth, the wearer can control a cursor on the display. Picture a touch pad on a laptop from your time, but stuck to the back of your teeth. Looking at an object and touching the membrane in the correct spot brings up a control panel for that object. In a similar manner, one can look up information on the Ariel system and communicate with other people through text messaging via an ‘on-screen’ keyboard. That, as I promised I’d explain, is how I contacted Drakke. One also has the option of speaking to Ariel or other people with one’s voice just as you did in your days when using a telephone. Out of courtesy to others around them, most people avoid this in public areas. There is nothing more annoying than listening to someone talk to themselves.
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot a feature: the courtesy light. This is a small light implanted atop a person’s ear. It is used by the PC to signal when the wearer is using the system, or “off the hook” as we call it. This warns others that the wearer is not available to talk to them at the moment. In such a predicament, one usually just leaves a message for them on the Ariel system.”
Sounds pretty damn cool, right? Well, we already saw the precursor to Personal Communicators (BT headsets) appear just one year after Zero Calvin was published. Now less than ten years later we see another awesome technology surface: Google GLASS. I’ve never explicitly stated it (until now), but I always imagined that if anyone were going to create something like the Ariel System, it was going to be Google. Check out the videos below:
I think you get the idea. And even though Google is playing up the “voyeuristic” aspect of these glasses (you bet the porn industry will be buying about half of these), I think that is only scratching the surface of what a device like this can do in the hands of the search engine monster that is Google. For one, I see GLASS being able to provide you with information in real time for the things around you, WITHOUT you having to ask for it. I think that is going to be the key, and it will definitely take our world one decently-sized step towards the future I painted in Zero Calvin. Since GLASS has several positioning sensors as well as back-end technology like Google Goggles (for image recognition), it is only a matter of time and programming.
To give you some examples, walking into an art gallery, you look at a Van Gogh and GLASS brings up the artist, title, and a little blurb about good old Vincent. You take a picture of it, and later, when reviewing the picture you ask Glass to order you a print. Another example is, of course, help with directions, both street-level and for the interior of buildings like airports – or even the museum that we mentioned earlier. Looking for a specific work of art? Ask GLASS. Glass could also serve as instructor. Want a paper penguin? GLASS could show you the steps as you fold the paper. How about replacing the universal joint in your car? GLASS gives you hands-free instruction the whole way.
Another way I see GLASS being used is as a standard interface model. What I mean by that is most electronics and appliances would no longer need their own user interfaces. Simply looking at the object and issuing a voice command would cause GLASS to display the controls and possible commands. Since GLASS has GPS and Bluetooth, it can easily inventory all compatible machines in its proximity and allow the user to effortlessly control any of them. Change the channel on the TV, dim the lights, preheat the oven, call your friends, look up a recipe for tonight’s dinner, follow a cooking show as you make the meal, in short, effortlessly control the world around you – hands-free. Hell, you could stream Pandora from GLASS to your car stereo and create a new “channel” without ever looking away from the road. And the whole time GLASS could be showing you directions to the movies as you order a ticket in advance.
Here is an example from Zero Calvin of using Display Lenses as a generic interface system:
Calvin went to lift his luggage, but he was dismayed to find that there were no handles. As he studied the suitcases, they became brighter, and a menu appeared: ON | OFF. Calvin shrugged and chose on. What could it hurt?
The suitcases crept toward Calvin. He backed away from them. They crept toward him. He backed away from them. Calvin then realized that they were supposed to follow him. He left the room and met Tarpa in the hall, his luggage creeping along after him.
And another one:
Tarpa pointed to a blank wall. She said to Calvin, “That’s the TV. You can control it by speaking to it. Watch.” She then spoke to the blank wall, “Voice command television.”
“Television on voice command,” came a voice from somewhere above them. Calvin looked up but could not see the source.
“I’d like to see the first episode of Knight Rider,” said Tarpa with a small grin. Five seconds later, the first episode of Knight Rider was playing on the wall in high definition video and crystal clear audio that made real life seem dull.
Tarpa turned back to Calvin and said, “It’s quite intuitive — just ask it what you want to see. You can also do searches by actor, year, genre, etc. I’m sure you can figure it out. I have to go now. One of the other staff will be in to check on you from time to time.”
Calvin didn’t answer; his attention was on an important matter. Tarpa left the room and alerted the others to the situation. They agreed to baby-sit Calvin for the day.
There are plenty more examples in Zero Calvin. In fact, this kind of technology is the cornerstone of the book. If you haven’t read Zero Calvin yet, I encourage you to check it out. You’ll see why I am so very jazzed to see Google take an interest in augmented reality glasses. I think it must be every speculative fiction writer’s dream to see their tech ideas come to life, and with Google GLASS it really is the beginning of the Ariel System from my imagination.