Clearer than Glass

Ever since Google Glass came out, I knew there was something about it that bothered me, something apart from its odd “geek chic” appearance. There was something fundamental off about the whole approach, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

I didn’t have a problem at all with wearable augmented reality itself. Eventually we are all going to become used to the everyday reality around us becoming visibly augmented. Well within a generation, we won’t even think about this anymore, other than to be astonished that anybody could go through the day without such a thing, much as young people today are astonished that their elders somehow grew up without the benefit of the World Wide Web.

No, that wasn’t it. That wasn’t it at all.

Finally, in the last few days, I realized what my issue was: The Graphic User Interface.

Every SmartPhone, tablet, notebook computer and eBook reader has a GUI. The GUI is what tells us what to do next. Some collection of buttons, icons, things to click on or poke at, these constitute our on-line manual. The very first thing we see when we look into these screens is a built-in set of instructions.

And this makes sense, because when we look at such devices, they have our attention.

But an augmented reality display is different. It’s not supposed to have your attention. The person you are talking to, or the street you are crossing, or the play you are watching — these are supposed to be the focus of your attention, rather than some device you happen to be wearing on your face.

And I realized that the future of wearable augmented reality must be one that gets completely out of your way until you need it, one that presents no default GUI at all.

This will require a radical rethinking of how we interact with computers. Without that radical rethinking, wearable A.R. will never become more than an oddity.

The problem with Google Glass is not that it is too revolutionary, but rather that it isn’t nearly revolutionary enough.

3 Responses to “Clearer than Glass”

  1. sally says:

    You wrote:

    “And I realized that the future of wearable augmented reality must be one that gets completely out of your way until you need it”

    We agree and wrote about this in our conclusions on locative media (not necessarily AR) in

    Applin and Fischer (2011)

    Pervasive Computing in Time and Space: The Culture and Context of ‘Place’ Integration

    “Pervasive technology is about creating transparent services and the resultant empowerment bundled alongside these. It’s hard to persuade someone to invest in something inherently transparent, but once someone goes towards a door with an armful of groceries, the automated sensing door becomes an easy favorite. The more invisible it is, or unaware we are, of pervasive technology, the easier it becomes to create more of it. This isn’t a clandestine proposition, it has to do with how humans absorb their surroundings and use them as they navigate society. Well developed pervasive technologies create a bit of ‘non-place’ without the associated isolation.

    The issues surrounding pervasive technologies are complex and fascinating. The capacity for people to enhance the physical planet in ways such that it might almost become sentient is breathtaking and awe inspiring. It is also a phenomenally complex process stacked upon many other complex processes forged by the massively distributed computing power of people in human societies that serve us today. To become integrated with our environment in such a way that it senses and responds to us, leverages cyborgism to be not as dystopic or dehumanizing, but as enabling. Humans and their ancestors have adapted and created systems for its survival, propagation and expansion for millions of years [16].

    The key things to remember when developing these systems is that one is designing an invisible service that functions best when it is forgotten. This is the purest vision of ease-of-use in design, and the one most envied and aspired to. The sensored planet, the physical network, and the pervasive technologies that will get us there, have a clean slate to reinvent design, to that of invisible, temporal, elegance.”

  2. admin says:

    Actually, Sally, it’s better than you might think.

    My students and I have been working on implementations of GUI-less gesture-enhanced augmented reality for years. See, for example, my Keynote lecture/demo at SIGGRAPH Asia in 2011.

    My recent revelation about Glass was, in essence, a conscious labeling of how Google’s paradigm differs from the approach I’ve been implementing for years.

    There’s a nice symmetry here: All this time you didn’t know I was implementing your ideas, and I didn’t know you were describing my implementations. 🙂

  3. sally says:

    Or as Ihde, said, “technology tends to ‘withdraw’ from our awareness when it works well” (Ihde 1990, p.33).

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