Skip to main content

Google Glass signals a wearables revolution

By Paul Saffo
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
The future will be bright in all those augmented realities. <a href='http://www.google.com/glass/start/' target='_blank'>Google Glass</a> is the wearable computer that responds to voice commands and displays information on a visual display. The future will be bright in all those augmented realities. Google Glass is the wearable computer that responds to voice commands and displays information on a visual display.
HIDE CAPTION
Eyeing you up
20 wearable technologies of the future
Don't sweat it
Dirt Vader
Impact on the future
Sweet vibrations
Smokin' hot
What's your poison?
Fist-Bump your phone
Light me up!
Track it down
Shine on
Emotidress
Climate control
Safety sock
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Saffo: Current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles
  • Saffo: But Glass signals a wearables revolution poised to sweep into our lives
  • He says similar devices are moving from personal to intimate spaces
  • Saffo: Info-glasses might be made obsolete by info-contact lens in the future

Editor's note: Paul Saffo is managing director of Foresight at Discern Analytics and teaches at Stanford University. He owns shares of Google stock. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Google Glass is crazy fun, but don't worry if you missed your chance to buy a pair on Tuesday, when it went on sale to the public for $1,500.

While the current generation of Google Glass is doomed to become a clunky eBay collectible, it's nonetheless a leading indicator of a vast wearables revolution poised to sweep into our lives.

That is, if it can get past some hurdles as we speak. There's been anti-tech backlash against Google Glass. Not everyone is down with it -- for reasons such as privacy -- but when these challenges are overcome then we're in for some interesting times.

Paul Saffo
Paul Saffo

Eyeglass companies are already designing sleeker, less pricey versions of wearable displays, and developers are busy creating better apps.

Simply put, the information revolution is moving from personal to intimate.

It is just the latest chapter in a long trend that began in the 1980s when computers arrived on our desktops. Then in the 1990s, the gizmos shrank into laptops and disappeared into our backpacks and briefcases.

Google Glass targeted as symbol by anti-tech crowd

With the arrival of smartphones a decade ago, our computers now fit into a pocket, becoming constant companions. At each stage of this evolution, our devices insinuated themselves ever deeper into our lives, performing ever more essential tasks and becoming ever more important info-companions.

The future of tech is wearable!
Bars banning Google Glass
Woman claims attack due to Google Glass

Now our devices are poised to disappear. They will disappear into our lives as small, absolutely essential tools that we will notice only when we lose them.

Info-glasses today are like PCs in 1984 -- they look cool but perform a few functions that aren't all that useful, such as taking pictures or surfing the Web while sitting in a bar with friends. But just as PCs quickly became vastly more useful than mere word processors, new info-glass apps will allow us to perform more essential tasks.

Professionals from surgeons to surveyors are already prototyping apps that help them work in smarter ways. On the personal front, imagine an app that uses face recognition to tell you the name of the acquaintance walking toward you and your spouse at a cocktail party, sparing everyone the embarrassment of a fumbled introduction.

This is just one example of what is coming. Just as we have been surprised by search and social media, we are certain to be astonished by the capabilities of the device sitting on the bridge of our nose.

The scale of surprise is certain to be huge because info-glasses are just one of a zoo of wearable devices that are coming into our lives. Health-centered devices such as the Fitbit are already wrapping themselves around our wrists, competing for space with a new generation of smart watches.

Other devices will live in our pockets and eventually will be woven into the fabric of the clothes we wear. Some devices are destined to become yet more intimate, living under our skin. Some will be serious medical devices. Others will be for sheer whimsy -- imagine a subdermal display that is in effect a changeable electronic tattoo. Hobbyist hackers today can buy an implantable RFID chip kit complete with injector for less than $100. Implant it in your hand and use it to talk with electronic door locks.

All of these devices will communicate with each other and info-glass successors to Google Glass are likely to become an important control panel for communication between wearables and their human owners. Bicyclists will use info-glasses as a heads-up display for everything from road speed and map route to heart rate and glucose levels.

Our new wearables will, with very few exceptions, also be in constant communication with cyberspace and real-time information systems. Parents who are out to dinner will be able to discretely listen in on the baby monitor back home or view streaming video off a bedroom webcam.

The arrival of Google Glass has resulted in a debate over where and when info-glasses can be worn. Just like similar debates over pagers, cell phones and smartphones in years past, wearables will likely be everywhere.

Besides, unlike smartphones, info-glass hardware is going to quickly shrink into near-invisibility. Within a few years, smart glasses will be indistinguishable from an ordinary pair of vintage 2014 specs.

And after that? How about info-contact lens that can check your vital signs?

And privacy? Forget about it. We are destined to become like tagged bears, constantly tracked, but too addicted to the data stream to switch our intimate devices off.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT