Skip to main content

Astro Teller: Why we developed Google Glass

By Astro Teller
June 4, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
The future will be bright in all those augmented realities. <a href='' 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.
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
Climate control
Safety sock
  • Astro Teller: The way technology interacts with us is ready for a serious overhaul
  • Teller: Google Glass is meant to seamlessly integrate our digital and physical lives
  • He says when a technology reaches a point of invisibility, it has reached ultimate goal
  • Teller: Google Glass, if we evolve it the right way, should become a 10X improvement

Editor's note: Astro Teller is the Captain of Moonshots at Google X, Google's research lab that focuses on big ideas that can change the world. He oversees X projects like Google Glass and the self-driving car. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Technology is everywhere. It's in our homes, cars, workplaces -- it's in your pocket right now. This is nothing new. We have been conditioned to believe, despite the occasional dystopic summer blockbuster, that technology is making our lives easier. We are told constantly that all these tiny computers we carry around with us are improving, keeping pace as we grow as a society and allowing us to lead more efficient, happier lives.

Technology is a good thing. I believe that to be true. But, the more I witness its evolution, the more I think we're building it wrong much of the time. The way technology interacts with us is ready for a serious overhaul.

It is true that technology has the potential to dramatically help society. But technology on its own doesn't accomplish those things. It is in the transition from idea to tangible product where the fate of technology is determined.

Astro Teller
Astro Teller

Douglas Adams once said, "Technology is a word that describes something that doesn't work yet." Technologies often fail not because they don't function; they fail us because we know they're there.

Technology, at its absolute best, is not a whiz-bang gadget we show off to our friends. It is, instead, something more like the seemingly mundane anti-lock brake systems on the cars we drive.

When you press your ABS brakes, you are not braking. You are giving a robot a request. The robot then processes the request, and brakes on your behalf. You just push the brake in a totally natural way, expressing your intent (i.e., how fast you'd like to stop). You offer guidance with your foot on the pedal, which allows the robot to do its work by interpreting that guidance and making sure you don't skid. This is the processing of a high-level desire by letting the technology take care of all the low-level details.

A young student uses Google Glass to record his work in art class at the Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Margaret Powers, who coordinates technology for the private school's youngest students, was selected for Google's Glass Explorer program, which allows people to test the wearable computer. A young student uses Google Glass to record his work in art class at the Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Margaret Powers, who coordinates technology for the private school's youngest students, was selected for Google's Glass Explorer program, which allows people to test the wearable computer.
What kids see through Google Glass
Photos: What kids see through Google Glass Photos: What kids see through Google Glass
Morgan Spurlock explores Google Glass

When a technology reaches this point of invisibility, it has reached its ultimate goal: becoming part of our routine, with no compromise between us and the technology. The technology meets us 100% of the way, right where we want it and need it, right at the point where it improves our lives and takes nothing away. It doesn't take our attention, it doesn't slow us down, and it doesn't make us change the way we live our lives.

What inspired Google Glass was partly the realization that consumer technology products often don't live up to those standards. So, we began to look more closely at the people around us and how they interact with technology. We found they were living in a world divided between their digital lives and their in-the-moment physical lives.

I know that some people worry wearable connected technologies will become just the next step down the path of draining our attention and further widening the schism between our physical lives and digital lives -- just another techno-distraction.

We agree. So, we're developing the Glass design to make it easier to bring people the technology they depend on without drawing them out of the moment. We're building it to make digital life more elegantly and seamlessly integrated into physical life, or even to remove those barriers entirely. We aspire for Glass to help its wearers be naturally in the moment without having to "operate" anything.

The most successful wearable technology in human history is something people don't even view as technology anymore: eyeglasses. Invented 700 years ago, they caught on because, more than anything else, they made the world clear and visible for those whose eyes saw just a blur. And they made the world richer than if you didn't have them on.

Society has embraced eyeglasses to such a large degree because they offer us the best kind of technology -- there is no owner's manual, we don't have to fight with the user interface, and we forget they are there and become aware of them only in their absence.

Google Glass, if we evolve it the right way, should become a 10X improvement on that kind of experience. People wearing Glass would forget they're wearing it, just like you don't remember during the day that you are wearing regular eyeglasses -- until you aren't.

The goal of Glass is to take your base sensory experience of the world and deliver it to you in a better, more livable, more enjoyable, more beautiful way -- without having to compromise on anything on your end. It is our job to make sure, in Adams' formulation, Glass just works.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?