Google Glass’s Thad Starner Wears the Future

Starner has built and sported his own augmented-reality glasses since 1990

Thad Starner has been living the future for more than two decades. As a graduate student at MIT in the early 1990s, he found it frustrating that he couldn’t fully attend to a lecturer and take careful notes at the same time. So he built one of the first wearable computers—a head-up display, which weighed as much as a textbook and connected to a one-handed keyboard called a Twiddler. The contraption let him keep his eye on the speaker while simultaneously typing up what he was learning.

He’s worn some version of the system ever since. The latest iteration is Google Glass, which Starner is helping develop as a technical lead while also keeping his full-time gig as a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta. He still uses the Twiddler to browse the Web and take notes on the go without ever pausing to look down at a screen. And because he has more than 20 years of experiences stored in the thumb-size, baby-blue computer at his temple, he can immediately call up relevant but not-quite-fully-remembered details to inform a conversation and almost never has to ask someone for the same information twice.

Starner’s augmented-reality glasses also let him form what he calls “intellectual collectives.” Sometimes while he’s giving a talk or participating in a panel discussion, for instance, he lets students or colleagues attend remotely via his wearable’s camera and microphone feeds. They text him ideas and answers that only he can see, and he moderates their input, selecting the best, most informative bits to share with his audience.

For more on Starner and other wearables research, see “Wearable Computers Will Transform Language.”