Collective Productivity via Intellectual Collective

Source: Engadget, May 2013

Starner’s term for augmented reality simply referred to “information you can use while you’re doing other things.”

For Starner, these applications aren’t nearly as compelling as a system that quickly provides information when you need it and then disappears just as quickly:

The big thing that people don’t realize is that it’s not about the full-field-of-view, registered AR experience. It’s much better to have something you can interact with in micro-interactions. That’s what Glass is all about, having these short interactions throughout the day. You’re really trying to make interfaces that allow people to augment their eyes, ears and mind, but not get mired in the virtual world.

Glass is already in good shape on the AR front. That, though, is only one of three key aspects that are, for Starner, crucial to wearable devices. In a 1993 article called “The Cyborgs are Coming,” he suggested two other crucial features.

The first is augmented memory, which is simply the ability to look up information previously learned, but possibly forgotten. For Starner, the primary focus has been conversation. “Having access to your education, having access to your everyday conversations on that level, so you can actually use it in face-to-face education, is invaluable,” he said. “It makes professors seem smarter than they are — which is a very big thing when you’re a professor!”

The final, and in some ways most complicated, aspect is the development of what Starner calls “intellectual collectives.” These are, effectively, social networks — but not in the Facebook or (more appropriately) Google+ kind of way. These networks are much more focused on real-time information sharing and collaboration. In other words: they make people more productive, not less.

… could this be done on Glass? Absolutely, said Starner, but he isn’t confident there’s a lot of priority for it:

One of the academics will do it. The question is whether there’s a commercial reason for it. When you make something like this that has a clear focus, has a clear use, stuff that’s well-baked, stuff that’s compelling — but when that hardware gets out to all my buddies [at universities] you’ll see them adapting to some very interesting uses.

And that’s where a line may need to be drawn, dividing Starner’s vast experience in wearable technologies and the future of Glass and other derivative devices. In an academic setting, when you actively research something new and contribute to a broader project, you can get away with wearing a backpack full of circuitry while constantly adjusting a weighty pair of glasses on your nose. After all, you’re doing it for science.

Wearable technology and AR pioneer Thad Starner on how Google Glass could augment our realities and our memories

When it comes to the commercial world, however, to the creation of a profitable and thriving ecosystem used by average people in the average world, the standards are higher. Devices must be smaller, their interfaces must be intuitive and everything must simply work and work simply. From a researcher’s point of view this is an unworkable limitation. From an engineer’s point of view, this is a necessary challenge. From a consumer’s point of view, this is just the way it is.

In some ways, Glass in its current form is limited compared even to the devices Starner wore years ago. The real question, of course, is whether it offers enough to finally bring wearables to the mainstream? That remains to be seen, but if it does, remember this: Thad Starner did it way before it was cool.

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