Instead, Google let me speak to Starner, a technical lead for the project, who is one of the world’s leading experts on what it’s like to live a cyborg’s life. He has been wearing various kinds of augmented-reality goggles full time since the early 1990s, which once meant he walked around with video displays that obscured much of his face and required seven pounds of batteries. Even in computer science circles, then, Starner has long been an oddity. I went to Google headquarters not only to find out how he gets by in the world but also to challenge him. Project Glass—and the whole idea of machines that directly augment your senses—seemed to me to be a nerd’s fantasy, not a potential mainstream technology.
But as soon as Starner walked into the colorful Google conference room where we met, I began to question my skepticism. I’d come to the meeting laden with gadgets—I’d compiled my questions on an iPad, I was recording audio using a digital smart pen, and in my pocket my phone buzzed with updates. As we chatted, my attention wandered from device to device in the distracted dance of a tech-addled madman.
Starner, meanwhile, was the picture of concentration. His tiny display is connected to a computer he carries in a messenger bag, a machine he controls with a small, one-handed keyboard that he’s always gripping in his left hand. He owns an Android phone, too, but he says he never uses it other than for calls (though it would be possible to route calls through his eyeglass system). The spectacles take the place of his desktop computer, his mobile computer, and his all-knowing digital assistant. For all its utility, though, Starner’s machine is less distracting than any other computer I’ve ever seen. This was a revelation. Here was a guy wearing a computer, but because he could use it without becoming lost in it—as we all do when we consult our many devices—he appeared less in thrall to the digital world than you and I are every day. “One of the key points here,” Starner says, “is that we’re trying to make mobile systems that help the user pay more attention to the real world as opposed to retreating from it.”
By the end of my meeting with Starner, I decided that if Google manages to pull off anything like the machine he uses, wearable computers seem certain to conquer the world. It simply will be better to have a machine that’s hooked onto your body than one that responds to it relatively slowly and clumsily.