Tag Archives: Steve Mann

I am Locutus of Borg. May I take your order?

“Hi. Welcome to McDonald’s”

“We are the Borg. Surrender your McFlurries and hand over your Big Macs. We will add your special sauce to our own. Your fast food will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

“Uh…you want fries with that?”

Okay, that’s my childish reaction to this:

It’s Steve Mann’s, the “father of wearable computing”, eyepiece and it got him beat up in a McDonalds in France. You can read the full story here. Mann was approached by a couple of men who objected to the eyepiece and attempted to forcibly remove it from his head. They also ate his chicken wrap.

That’s just cold.

I’m a little torn on this one, or rather some things are plain to me and others aren’t:

  • It was wrong for Mann to be assaulted for any reason, least of all what he chose to wear.
  • Even if there was some concern about surveillance capabilities that doesn’t justify an attack. It was just petty bullying.
  • Mann’s eyepiece is freaky.

Mann is using the eyepiece to experience a sort of augmented reality, where information from the internet and other sources is overlayed on his normal vision. This is the same concept, roughly, behind the Google Goggles we saw a few months ago, but there are some details of this that are a little disturbing to me.

  • Mann requires special tools to get the thing off his head.
  • The eye isn’t corrective, its augmentative.
  • And he can take surveillance.

This isn’t wearable computing, this is part of his body, and as my childish response might indicate I’m not comfortable with that notion. At the very least I think such inputs are distracting, at worst I think they’re more than our brains are designed to handle. I use corrective lenses to see every day. Some deaf children use Cochlear implants to be able to hear, and there are advances in restoring sight to the blind every year. But that’s not what this is. This is the beginning of trying to merge with machines, to take the information that we get by tapping a few keys, and instead grab it with a few thoughts or by interpreting what we’re looking at.

If we continue our Star Trek analogies, Geordi used a visor to see, and yes even though he could take it off there were sensor leads that were always in his head. But again this was to restore a faculty, and even though it gave him some increased abilities, it also came with a set of challenges, headaches for starters.

Okay, fictional examples to real world situations but hey I’m a sci-fi futurist. It does come to mind.

And okay I know that cameras are probably tracking me a lot of the time anyway, even more so in Europe. But the idea of a street level surveillance operative recording and analyzing everything he sees is creepy. It might not cause me to want to beat him up, but I might ask him to shut it off. Just like I don’t want someone with a cellphone camera capturing my every move, I wouldn’t want someone like Mann to do it either. I’m not saying that’s what he was doing, but clearly from the assault pictures, the thing is set to record under certain circumstances.

Hate crimes are not the way to solve anything, but this is an area of tension that we will need to start addressing soon. Not all of us think that wearing our machines is a good idea. I’m a fan of being human, of using the machine I was designed with, and keeping the ones I work with at arm’s length. Mann  would disagree with me, and that’s fine. I believe in free society, but every fundamental shift in culture or nature has triggered one form of bigotry or another, and it might be a good idea to keep an eye on this one, augmented or otherwise.

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