Taking off our blinders

Law does not move at the speed of technology.

Sometimes this is a good thing. In Ohio, you owe unpaid use (sales) tax on anything you buy online, except for digital items. Even though the only difference between a CD and an MP3 is the medium, one is in the tax code, the other is not. Maybe the spirit of the law says you should pay tax on both, but I think most of us, especially with our taxes, go by the letter and not the spirit. After all, why pay more taxes than we have to?

It’s not such a good thing when we talk about guns. Change a grip, barrel length, maybe even a color and a law that bans one assault weapon lets another nearly identical one out into the world.

Before you all go crazy, I’m not actually here to talk about the gun debate.

I want to talk about Google Glass.

I’ve written about Google Glass (or technologies like it) before, but for those who don’t know, Google Glass is one of the first steps toward wearable computing. The device is worn like a regular pair of glasses, and the user can have e-mail, Google map info, video, and all sorts of information displayed directly in front of their eyes. The glasses can take pictures and record video, which raises privacy concerns of course, but again, not the subject of today’s post.

I want to speak briefly about driving.

We recently implemented a texting ban in Ohio. It’s a primary offense (for anyone under 18) and a misdemeanor ($150 fine) for adults. The ban covers hand-held devices only, which means Google Glass wouldn’t currently be covered.

Texting bans are good, but they’re a reactionary law. I don’t mean that they’re rash, far from it in fact. It takes years for the law to catch up to the dangers of new technology, and while a hand-held standard covers any new smart phone, tablet or device that might want to draw away our attention, it doesn’t cover ones we wear.

I sometimes hear the argument that any law that bans our behavior in this fashion is an example of a “nanny state”. I tend to agree that we should generally (though not in all cases) be allowed to do whatever we want as long as it only affects us. I have no particular interest or stake in the marijuana debate, but legalization wouldn’t be the end of the world to me. But driving is not that sort of activity. What we do affects all those around us, and at highway speeds one accident can turn into a pile-up.

Google Glass is largely voice commanded. This means composing an e-mail will probably be a lot like talking on the phone, but what about reading one? Maybe the device reads to you, but what about all the other visual cues and distractions that might keep our eyes off what we’re supposed to be doing?

At the end of the day though, Google Glass is just one example. I want us to do more than just deal with this particular piece of technology, but come up with a way that we’ll evaluate the potential risk to public safety of any new technology. For things like Glass maybe it’s as simple as laws about how much of your visual field can be obscured while driving (maybe 30%). Maybe it’s requiring devices to restrict certain functionalities at speeds over a certain MPH. There are many possibilities.

Tomorrow I’ll share a little more about what I think we can do right now.


Filed under Trube On Tech

3 responses to “Taking off our blinders

  1. I’m curious what you’ll suggest. I think it’s almost impossible to legislate proactively about new technologies, because laws are based on certain assumptions about what the technologies are like, and not even the techies have any idea what we’ll have 2-3 years from now.

  2. stevewthomas

    It’s an interesting problem and I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s dealt with. . .While not a “hands on” distraction, Google Glasses are a distraction on the order of Bluetooth technology, only moreso since they are a visual distraction. . .Probably should be prohibited while driving, but how would you know?

  3. Pingback: We The People Petition Announcement | [BTW] : Ben Trube, Writer

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