TECHNOLOGY

Google X Chief: Sorry, Elroy. No Jet Packs

Google's Astro Teller wants advances in technology to be less noticeable, not more.
Advertisement

If this is the future, where's my jetpack?

You're not the only one who's wondering. Turns out the folks at Google X--also known as Google's "moonshot" group--wants one too.

Despite this interest, Google isn't planning bring out a jetpack anytime soon, or so says Astro Teller, the scientist and entrepreneur who runs Google X. Those comments came out of TechCrunch Disrupt in New York on Tuesday.

Aside from jetpacks, however, Teller didn't leave the audience totally shattered. He urged people to develop technologies that would "disappear" into users' lives. He also spent ample time dodging questions about the privacy implications of Google glass, which he wore throughout his presentation.

Sorry Elroy, No Jetpacks

Unfortunately, we're not getting jet packs any time soon, at least not courtesy of Google. In answer to a question about which Google X projects get the greenlight and which get nixed, Teller used jetpacks as an example.

"We could have a concept that, wouldn't it be great to have a jetpack that isn't also a death trap?" he asked. "We work on it, we work on it, and nope... The real problem is that it's so power-inefficient it would get about a quarter of a mile per gallon. And it would be as loud as a motorcycle, and we thought, for now, that's a show-stopper."

Invisible Technology

The majority of Teller's presentation was devoted to arguing for technology that integrates into daily life better than some of the kludge-y fixes we currently accept. The ideal smartphone, he said, wouldn't be smaller or lighter or come in a nicer color than current phones. Instead, it would be something that would give us all the benefits of a smartphone, without having to carry anything around.

Teller cited eyeglasses and anti-lock brakes as examples of technology that "meet us all the way on our terms." Eyeglasses, he said, are pretty much the perfect wearable technology. "When you put it on, your life is just richer and more wonderful," he says. "It does not come with a user manual. It doesn't come with batteries. It just does what it's supposed to do. The only time you notice it is when you take it off."

That, he says, is what Google glass aspires to be. Not something that disconnects you from the physical world, but something that allows you to engage with the world in a brighter, more interesting, way.

For now, Glass seems to introduce a new layer between the user and the physical world. Teller hopes that's just a short-term phenomenon.

"The moonshot for Google Glass is to harmonize the physical and digital world," he said. "There is no law of physics that says that can't happen, just because we haven't done it yet. Google Glass isn't all the way there, but it's a good thing to aspire to."

Privacy, Diverted

Teller didn't directly address the privacy problems raised by Glass, seeming to believe that they are not his to tackle. "I grant generally that people are uncomfortable with how fast the issues of privacy are changing in the world, but Google Glass is not going to change the needle on that subject," he adds. "I don't buy that Glass is presenting that problem. I grant that the problem is there."

He quoted a story in the New York Times bemoaning the privacy invasions to be wrought by new technology, and by cameras in particular, and then noted that the story dated from the late 1800s. He called Glass "the world's worst spy camera," and said that for the foreseeable future, it will remain that way. When compared to actual spy cameras, he said, Glass is large and obtrusive, and a light goes on when a picture is taken.

In general, he urged the audience to look at innovations that could strip away a point of interaction between the digital and the physical. "The world is already up to its nose in technology, and it's going to have another layer that you've introduced," he says. "Ask yourself: How could the thing that I'm working on take away a layer? Remove an interface? Disappear into people's lives? ... That's the true calling that you're working on."

IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: May 6, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: