Man, Machine and Wearables

27th February 2015
thad starner

Recently, an episode from the new podcast series Invisibilia caught our eye. Invisibilia from NPR, in their words, “explores the intangible forces that shape human behaviour”. In this particular instalment, the podcast looked at computers, our relationship with them and whether “human character” is being altered as a result of them becoming more ingrained in our lives. Some interesting points were raised, especially when it comes to wearables. Also discussed is Thad Starner, a man inspired so much by the film The Terminator, he turned himself into a cyborg..!

The Original Glass

Well, not quite. Taking the idea that The Terminator is able to see information in front of his eyes (in a heads-up-display fashion), Starner developed his own computer wearable with an eye piece which displays text. You could even compare the computer to a primitive Google Glass, although Starner’s creation came to life in the mid 1990’s! He also wears a small keyboard on one hand which he uses to note down details about his interactions and points of interest. This information is fed into a larger computer which then feeds back to the eye display on command. He wears this device constantly, only taking it off to sleep or shower.

Terminator hud

Data Entry

Where The Terminator’s information was given to him automatically based on what he was looking at, Starner’s can only be provided once he types in specific search terms manually. It all sounds a little cumbersome, but Starner has made it work for himself with quite amazing results. NPR give an example of how he uses his “wearable” to his advantage…

“[Let’s say Starner] runs into somebody, Kenji, who he only knows a little and hasn’t seen in four years. Starner types this person’s name on his keyboard, and the remembrance agent displays on the screen in front of his eye all the information about Kenji that Starner has ever entered into the system”.

The Superhuman

In the podcast, he talks about how he was able to recall small pieces of information about people, which he otherwise would have forgotten, and was then able to bring this up in conversation. He says that this undoubtedly changed him as a person and had a huge positive impact on his social relationships.

Man or Machine?

At what point do we separate the person from the computer though? Technically, all the information being displayed to Thad Starner are his memories, that he has entered himself. But he isn’t recalling them himself, his computer is. His relationships may be strengthened as a result of his ability to recall detailed information about people, but who is having the relationship? The man or the machine?

In 2010, Thad Starner was recruited by Google as a technical lead in the development of Google Glass. Using his experiences of wearing technology daily for the past 20 years, he was able to provide a unique insight into wearables. Very few people have such an intimate relationship with technology, but perhaps wearables will become as integral to our own lives as they are to Thad’s…

You can listen to the full Invisibila podcast about humans and technology here.