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Thad Starner on Singularity 1 on 1: Reduce the Time Between Intention and Action

Thad Starner is a wearable computing pioneer who coined the term “augmented reality” and a Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also a technical lead on Google Glass – a self-contained wearable computer. And so I was very excited to interview Prof. Starner for my Singularity 1 on 1 podcast.

Thad Starner

During our conversation with Thad we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: how he coined the term augmented reality (AR) and the definition thereof; what is wearable computing and how it is different from AR; Google Glass – its major breakthroughs, popular apps, misconceptions and implications; Starner’s other cutting-edge projects such as the passive haptic learning mobile music touch glove; his personal advice for young augmented reality designers and developers; Vernor Vinge‘s Rainbows End and the technological singularity…

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above, or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.  If you want to help me produce more episodes please make a donation)


Who is Thad Starner?

Thad Starner is a wearable computing pioneer and a Professor in the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also a Technical Lead on Google’s Glass, a self-contained wearable computer.

Thad received a PhD from the MIT Media Laboratory, where he founded the MIT Wearable Computing Project. Starner was perhaps the first to integrate a wearable computer into his everyday life as a personal assistant, and he coined the term “augmented reality” in 1990 to describe the types of interfaces he envisioned at the time. His groups’ prototypes on mobile context-based search, gesture-based interfaces, mobile MP3 players, and mobile instant messaging foreshadowed now commonplace devices and services.

Thad has authored over 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications with over 100 co-authors on mobile Human Computer Interaction (HCI), machine learning, energy harvesting for mobile devices, and gesture recognition. He is listed as an inventor on over 80 United States patents awarded or in process. Thad is a founder of the annual ACM/IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers, and his work has been discussed in many forums including CNN, NPR, the BBC, CBS’s 60 Minutes, ABC’s 48 Hours, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

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  • Darian Wawer

    One of the most inspiring and exciting interviews that I’ve watched on your site.
    And the amount of cutting-edge projects that Thad has initiated or worked on – just mind-blowing.

    I’m surprised that I haven’t heard about him before.

    Ps. Thanks Nikola for what you do. It’s truly unique and exceptional. And inspiring, for sure.
    I’m waiting for the follow-up. Definitely.

  • Thankd Darian – I am happy you enjoyed it that much! 😉 It’s why I do it!!! 😉

  • Alexander Hayes

    Brilliant interview Nikola. Looking forward to a public who look up instead of down although it will be interesting to see whether we also lose the ability to engage with each other using the good ol’ eye-contact ps. I dont see much written about Thad here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality

  • Excellent interview. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future of technology like this. Years ago I was involved in various R&D aspects of augmented reality (ex. heavy helmets and goggles connected to computing systems that could provide simulated virtual overlays – “wearable” within a limited area, but practically stationary).

    In my new sci fi novel titled “Ovahe”, which is a scenario for the advent of the singularity (and is available on Amazon.com), I explore some possibilities for how technology like Google Glass and the sort of things that Vernor Vinge talks about in “Rainbow’s End” will evolve in the future. I speculated a scenario where a technological solution can be implanted in the human body (embedded instead of wearable) and this solution can connect directly into the cerebral cortex and other relevant points of interest to effectively inject not only audio/visual data and communication information, but also sensory sim/stim overlays to partially assist or even fully commandeer a person’s entire sensory perception.

    I proposed a rating scale for normalized understanding of quality and depth of reality augmentation. On a scale of 0 to 10, a Reality Substitution Quality (RSQ) value of 0 would indicate no augmentation, and a value of 10 would indicate complete virtual immersion. The number scale was combined with a letter scale (A-Z), with A meaning perfect representation of all senses and Z referring to a state of zero quality. So RSQ-10A would mean that a person was experiencing full virtual immersion – all senses handled by synthetic sim/stim – completely immersed and cut off from reality. Something like Google Glass would probably be in the neighborhood of an RSQ-2T. The technology that Vernor Vinge describes in “Ranbow’s End” would be something like RSQ-5J.

    In the novel, I also proposed a legal construct for safety, which by law would limit mobile wearable or embedded technologies to RSQ-4 or lower when a person was moving about, because for example you wouldn’t want someone trying to drive a real transport over a virtual bridge. Stationary solutions, on the other hand, would be free to go all the way up to RSQ-10, where reality and fantasy mix, and anything is possible.

    I’d like to know what you think of this idea.

    —– http://www.singularityarchives.com

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  • mmaaaxx

    I loved this interview (jest getting to it now!) and Thad’s general attitude. I was surprised that our great teacher Socrates did not press him at all about the fantastic phrase “Reduce the time between intention and interaction.” As a person more interested in the philosophical implications of the singularity (as opposed to technological), this quote made me immediately think of Nietzsche and Akira (which are very related in my mind). I tend to believe that our *nature* is a will to control (similar, but not the same as power) and that technologies give us more control over material, situations, and persons. My question to explore is: What are the implications of reducing that time and thereby eliminating the mediating interlude that often softens our will. Are we heading toward the Tetsuo character from Akira who becomes pure will/energy and consumes everything!

    It’s a beautiful and terrific vision in my mind and I’d love to hear Socrates’ perspective on this level of empowering the individual/will.

  • Thank you mmaaax, the short version is that “reducing the time between intention and action is, of course, a double-edged sword. Sometimes you want instant result, other times it is better to think things though and through before it is too late… And, yes, I should have pressed him a lot more on this and other issues such as privacy, but I did my best at the time and there are so many factors that play during each interview that one can always find ways to improve them immensely…

  • mmaaaxx

    I am gracious for this “forum” and for your voice in these brilliant discussions. I write not to criticize but hopefully to “augment,” so to speak…you jammed a lot of great content into that interview–

  • I get it Mmaaaxx, I know that you are contributing and making constructive suggestions and I really appreciate it 😉

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