Pre Glass

If one wants to understand where Google Glass is going, one should understand where it came from. It’s a culmination of decades of work from brilliant technologists and researchers, much of which is available in the public domain.

Above is a video from 2008 of a talk at Google by Thad Starner (who later became a project lead there). It’s just one of several inputs we can track. It looks like Google, somewhere around late 2009 or early 2010, decided to actually put some serious money into this. I had my first hint of it soon after, when I ran into another Google guy I knew at an AR conference in May 2010. He didn’t intentionally reveal anything — he’s a smart guy — but it was clear to me from his non-answer that they were moving ahead.

It’s relatively easy (now) for others to see the potential of the technology, when we all wondered for years about what it would take for anyone to actually want to buy and wear these things. It’s not ever easy to know in advance what experiences and/or hardware will or won’t work with real users, apart from the early adopters who will pound nails into their head. Anyone who has been thinking about this stuff for years undoubtedly has some ideas on that. But, as I like to quote too often, there is nothing more perfect than an idea unrealized. Brilliant ideas tend to fall aside very quickly in the face of reality, and it’s the implementation and ultimate success that counts.

The best way to answer the question above is to actually build something, improve it, change it to adapt to whatever we learn as quickly and honestly as we can.

It’s interesting to compare Starner’s experience of bankers wanting wearables to Steve Mann’s experience of being beaten up by McDonalds over similar concepts. One can read his reaction to the McDonald-ification of the world right on the surface of his work, and the subtext as well.

He writes an interesting piece for Time in which he explores the sociological implications of everyone having video sensors available all the time and lays out some interesting predictions. Mann’s article also serves to popularly re-establish his role in the history of  glass-like-things.

There’s a related question (one which I struggle with from time to time) about whether anyone actually cares who invented what first. Certainly, among the best technologists I know, the attitude is “let’s just build it” with few worries about credit or reward (see the idea unrealized quote above). But someone else less visionary, exploratory or even altruistic in nature will invariably step in to take the credit (and/or reward) for themselves. So people do tend to care about it in the end, and credit is due where it’s due.

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