On Father's Day, we saluted Steve Mann as the father of wearable technology, but added an asterisk, put there by a guy named Thad Starner. Starner was part of the MIT Media Laboratory, writing a doctoral thesis called "Wearable Computing and Contextual Awareness" in the early ‘90s, and through his career has developed many of the concepts and technologies that inspire Thalmic Labs' vision for computing.
He coined the term Augmented Reality, and defined it simply as "information you can use while you're doing other things". He's worn a computer continuously since 1993. He advocates wearable computers that we use all day: technologies that improve our lives with contextually-responsive alerts and information giving users superpowers. He's also done amazing work with pattern recognition and American Sign Language, using wearables to help people with disabilities augment their social interactions. He's now Full Professor at Georgia Tech, where he's founder and director of the Contextual Computing Group.
Clearly, his claim to fatherhood of the wearable computer deserves at least an asterisk.
Mann has been wearing his computer the longest -- he created a backpack-housed computing system for video recording purposes, but Mann's first love has always been photography and videography. Hence the father of wearable technology.
Starner’s visionary approach to Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) reimagines how we think about computing, which landed him an early position on the Google Glass brain trust -- just the tip of the wearable innovation iceberg.
He created the Twiddler chorded keyboard for mobile text input; he co-founded the MIT Wearable Computing Project, and was one of the first six cyborgs involved; he's prototyped a Shoe Power Generator for a human-powered wearable, as well as handwriting and sign language recognition systems; he's worked on an Aware Home with gestural interfaces; and he was among the earliest voices pushing for continuously-running, automated information systems to improve our daily lives (ideas he workshopped in the mid-'90s with Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google fame).
At Thalmic Labs, we love Starner's vision for computing. He's a fierce advocate for human-first computing systems, worrying often in interviews about the potential humanity has to lose itself in a virtual world. HCI for Starner is information that appears when needed and disappears the instant its purpose is fulfilled; calm technology that never intrudes into our lives but subtly augments them for the better. Subliminal prompts remind users of a conversationalists name, for instance, or contextual prompts remind the user about errands and appointments.
Take Remembrance Agent, a program running on a number of Starner's wearables. It is a massive searchable text buffer of everything he's said, as well as all of the copious notes he's written (often during conversations, one-handed on a Twiddler, and at 130 words-per-minute). He never needs to search his memory for a past conversation: he has an outboard brain he can search algorithmically to find empirical answers to questions about his own history.
Starner has been a visionary voice for the kind of relationship Thalmic Labs believes human beings can have with computers: where commands are replaced by impulses, distractions are eliminated, and the potential for human innovation soars.