Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Killer App for Google Glass

I can remember large amounts of poetry, but people's names, faces and the  information associated with them are a different matter. For the most part, I successfully conceal my handicap by a policy of never using names if I can help it, but once in a while the tactic fails. I still remember, as perhaps my most embarrassing moment, recommending Larry White's work on free banking to someone who looked vaguely familiar—and turned out to be Larry White. 

Help, however, is on the way. I first encountered the solution to my problem in Double Star, a very good novel by Robert Heinlein. It will be made possible, in a higher tech version, by Google glass. The solution is the Farley File, named after FDR's campaign manager. 

A politician such as Roosevelt meets lots of people over the course of his career. For each of them the meeting is an event to be remembered and retold. It is much less memorable to the politician, who cannot possibly remember the details of ten thousand meetings. He can, however, create the illusion of doing so by maintaining a card file with information on everyone he has ever met: The name of the man's wife, how many children he has, his dog, the joke he told, all the things the politician would have remembered if the meeting had been equally important to him. It is the job of one of the politician's assistants to make sure that, any time anyone comes to see him, he gets thirty seconds to look over the card.

My  version will use more advanced technology, courtesy of Google glass or one of its future competitors. When I subvocalize the key word "Farley," the software identifies the person I am looking at, shows me his name (that alone would be worth the price) and, next to it, whatever facts about him I have in my personal database. A second trigger, if invoked, runs a quick search of the web for additional information.

I am told that Google itself has a rule against building face recognition into glassware, so my Farley file software may not appear in the immediate future. But it is the killer app, and someone will build it.


Xerographica said...

What if the government ended up being responsible for creating the app? Then the usual suspects could list it along with the internet.

So is it market failure that the private sector hasn't already created this app?

See...I'm pretty sure this is an example of why pragmatarianism is superior to anarcho-capitalism. With anarcho-capitalism...the demand would exist but the supply wouldn't reflect it. It might eventually reflect it...but who knows when. But with a pragmatarianism system...if there was sufficient demand...a government program could be created to work on the provision of whatever it was that people were willing to spend their taxes on.

The government would be the embodiment of demand unmet by the private sector. How could that not be better than anarcho-capitalism?

Tibor said...

Xerographica: How does the government judge wether there is or is not the demand? How does anyone do that without the market? The problem is that if David decides to invest in his killer app tomorrow, he might become a very succesful businessman ... or lose all his invested money (since for example I would not want an app like that and I would even probably be a little bit hostile to anyone using it on me...I might get used to it after some time but maybe I would not). If government does, it takes all our money and either makes a success which however does not mean giving the taxpayers a share of profits or it is a failure...which means not only that money it collected is wasted but more often than not it also means it collects even more money to subsidize the "important feature of the society" for which there is no (sufficient) demand but that is apparently not important. So that is why letting government invest in business projects is not a good idea. It may be that some demand is not recognized or is recognized with a significant delay on a private market. But there are no reasons to expect government to do better...and a plenty to expect it to do worse.

Martinque said...


Do you have any idea why that is that you have a hard time remembering faces and names and some of the other information associated with it?

I like you think that I have a pretty good memory for almost everything else, but my memory often abandons me when it comes to names and faces. I do recognize patterns in people's faces so sometimes I think I know someone when I in fact do not. I have no idea why that is though.

Daublin said...

What you describe seems inevitable. Here are a few related points.

Facebook's face recognition has gotten quite good. Given a picture, it is pretty good at putting names to the people in a photo.

The "wearable computing" group at Georgia Tech has been exploring such ideas for over a decade.

Finally, Charles Stross' Accelerando takes the idea to an extreme. The computer-savvy protagonist is constantly spawning off computer queries.

Anonymous said...

Smithers: (whispering) Ah, its the Simpsons, sir
Burns: Ah, well, if it isn't the Simps!
Homer: Uh, Simp-sons sir
Burns: Oh, oh yes, Homer, and Marge Simpson. Oh, and these must be Bart, Lisa and uh, Expecting.
Smithers: Ah, the card needs to be updated, sir
Homer: Thats okay, the baby's name isn't important, lets go Marge

Tibor said...

Daublin: I'm not sure it is inevitable. If enough people don't like the idea of a database linked to faces then unless you can conceal the fact you are using it on them, their negative reaction to such an application could make it not worth for those who actually want to use it.

I would prefer if someone like David made a faux pas and showed that he clearly doesn't remmember me (and especially if he recommended my own book to me, it would even be quite amusing) than if he used an application like this. The way I see it, it is better of the other person doesn't remember you well, than if he clearly doesn't even have to bother remembering you. I don't know how other people see it though.

Also, I sometimes too forget people's names ( usually, I remember faces well, that sometimes I remember faces of people I have perhaps seen somewhere but have never really even talked to and then when I say hello to them under the impression that they probably know me. they don't know who I am either and that can be a bit embarassing). I am very good at remembering context - I think this is a similar pattern as David's. He remembers the content not the labels. I can talk about a person or a film or a book, tell the story, even details, but the name I usually forget quite fast. This is one of the reasons I do math - everything has a logical reason behind it and you don't just have to remember random facts as in, say, law (i don't mean theory of law, but law itself) or accounting.

Xerographica said...

Tibor Mach, you're correct... demand cannot be accurately determined without a market... which is exactly why we should create a market in the public sector (pragmatarianism FAQ).

In an anarcho-capitalist system...the demand would be there...but there's no guarantee that Atlas will take the risk to do something about it. But in a pragmatarian system, taxpayers could allocate their taxes accordingly. Resources would be directed by demand.

In an anarcho-capitalist system...the ball would just sit there indefinitely. In a pragmatarian system...the ball would start rolling as soon as there was sufficient demand. Therefore, pragmatarianism is better than anarcho-capitalism.

RKN said...

Perfect xmas gift for the prospagnosiac.

Anonymous said...

As somebody who shares that handicap, I crave this.

Tibor said...

Xerographica: Who decides how freely you can allocate your taxes? If there is total freedom, you don't actually have to pay them (you allocate them on yourself and there is just the cost of collecting them), if someone says you cannot allocate it on this or that, you have problems. If the government says you can spend it either on apples or oranges when I want bananas, then I will choose oranges which I prefer to apples but not to bananas.

Who decides how high the taxes are? If you have to pay 10% while the optimum height would be 5% then again you have these inefficiencies.

So either you have a system where you don't have to pay the taxes really anyway...and that de facto is anarcho-capitalist even if there is some institution out there which calls itself government, or you have politicians decide how large the taxes will be and what are the restrictions of what you can spend it on. And that leads to many problems. Also, since I can allocate them relatively freely, there might probably be strong freerider tendencies. I want something but it only is possible if a lot of other people decide to allocate their taxes to. My own contribution does not change the outcome, so I instead spend it on something else making myself better off. Everyone knows that so a lot of people will do the same...and you don't get the think that would benefit "us all" anyway.

So I'd say pragmatarianism either collapses to our current system (or something very close) or to anarcho-capitalism.

Tibor said...

Xerographica: Also, my "freerider" problem would be a good argument and even better rethoric for a politician who simply wants to reverse back entirely to our current system.

Xerographica said...

Tibor Mach, voters would decide what's on the menu and taxpayers would decide which items they "order". If enough voters decide that David's app should be on the menu...then he would be able to spend his taxes on it. Why not allow taxpayers to order from any country's menu?

Congress would still be in charge of the tax rate. Like any organization, their goal would be to maximize their own revenue. If they set the tax rate too high...or too low...taxpayers would give them less positive feedback (tax dollars). So the tax rate that maximized their revenue would be the optimal tax rate.

Eh? The free-rider problem? Are you assuming that in a pragmatarian system people would intentionally deviate from their preferences more than they are currently forced to? I drew a drawing to illustrate this...Incentivizing Honest Preference Revelation for Public Goods.

If anarcho-capitalism is the optimal allocation of resources... then why wouldn't applying the invisible hand to the public sector lead to anarcho-capitalism? If it didn't lead to anarcho-capitalism...then clearly anarcho-capitalism wasn't the optimal allocation of resources. This is a very simple but solid proof that pragmatarianism is superior.

Tibor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tibor said...

There is a problem with this also.

Majority chooses what you can spend your tax money on, right? Now, it is in my interest to limit the "menu" so that you basically only can buy the items I want you to spend money on. If I can succeed in making the menu more limited - towards things I like the money spent on - I can benefit on the fact that you are now forced to choose between the subsidies for apples or oranges (both of which I like) whereas otherwise you would choose to subsidize bananas.

I'm not sure if this would lead to better or worse results than our system, maybe a bit better. But still you would have this element present. It would be possible for the majority to limit the choices of the minority so that they effectively have to subsidize the majority choice.

You don't have this kind of problem on the ordinary (free) market. The problem is that voters, when they restrict the choices on the menu, don't bear the costs of doing so...while they potentially reap the benefits.

I think your system would lead to competing political groups trying to restrict the menu to precisely the items they are interested in. And that is not very different from our present system.

Anonymous said...

Quoting a recent post from

"Someday I might be able view a small gem or a dagger from a distant period, and someone, perhaps in a distant country or whom might not even be alive anymore, had taken it upon himself to describe its history and summarize all the research and speculation concerning it; for anyone to access instantly for free. That is a world I would like to live in."

We were discussing the new image annotation feature there and the possibility of uploading large amounts of paintings and museum artifacts to annotate.

When I think of all the different things which can be crowd-sourced annotated, I often imagine them appearing on the fly some day using technology like Google Glasses. Once we have computers that can recognize paintings, books, poems, product labels, artifacts, statues, buildings... then adjusting that technology to work on faces should be pretty trivial.

Anonymous said...


It' has already been developed in handheld form.

Scott G

Jonathan said...

I have a similar problem in remembering people. I've been keeping a diary consistently for almost 45 years, which does help to supplement my faulty memory. But, so far, I haven't tried carrying it around with me; and, even if I did so, it would currently be hard to consult unobtrusively.

I vaguely remember reading Double Star decades ago; maybe I should try it again sometime.

Mark Bahner said...

"60 Minutes" has done a piece on "face blindness" that's worth checking out:

Xerographica said...

Tibor Mach, earlier you acknowledged that we can't know what the demand is in the absence of a market. But now you're saying that a pragmatarian system (market in the public sector) might be a bit better than the current system. That's saying that socialism would be a bit worse than capitalism. Resources can't be efficiently allocated if we don't know what people's preferences truly are.

I don't know what the majority would want you to spend your tax dollars on. But it seems doubtful that creating a market in the public sector would decrease the quantity/quality of available options. This is because consumers want better options...they reward the producers who offer the best options.

You certainly wouldn't have the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs in a pragmatarian system. This is because creating a market in the public sector would eliminate rational ignorance.

Matthew Ferrin said...

Voice recognition is cooler anyway. Just augment my awareness with unobtrusive notes while I'm listening.