In what more than one observer has referred to as potentially the first cyborg hate crime, Steve Mann reports that he was assaulted at a McDonald's in Paris and physically thrown out because he did not remove his “Digital Eye Glass” device – a recording device that is physically attached to his head and cannot be removed without special tools.
You may recognize Mann as “the father of wearable computing.” The University of Toronto professor has been wearing some form of computing device since the early 1980s. His current rig, the EyeTap Digital Glass, is about three years old. Worn like eyeglasses, it's clear to see that it features a camera component, about the size of a tiny webcam. The device runs on his customized WearComp OS and captures images at 120 frames per second in 1989 x 1920 pixel resolution. But these images aren't stored permanently – unless the device is damaged, apparently. But I'm getting ahead of the story.
According to Mann, on July 1, he, his wife, and his two kids went to the McDonald's at the Champs Elysees. While in line, he was stopped by someone who later said he was a McDonald's employee, who asked about his EyeTap. Mann explained the device, and showed the doctor's letter and documentation he keeps with him, explaining that it can't be removed with special equipment. After that, “the purported McDonald's employee accepted me (and my family) as a customer, and left us to place our order.”
After peacefully placing the order, getting his food and settling down with his family near the entrance to the McDonald's to get in some people-watching while eating, Mann reported that “another person within McDonald's physically assaulted me...He angrily grabbed my eyeglass, and tried to pull it off my head.” As already explained, this device is permanently attached. When Mann tried to calm down his assailant and show him his documentation and letter from his doctor, things only got worse. The attacker brought him over to two others, one of whom was wearing a shirt with a McDonald's logo. The three conferred over the material, and then two of them destroyed the letter and documentation.
Mann's first assailant, as it happened, was wearing a nametag clipped to his belt, which he tried to hide when Mann looked down at it. Then this person, whom Mann refers to as “Perpetrator 1,” pushed him out the door, onto the street. The attack damaged Mann's computer vision system, and as Mann noted, “when the computer is damaged, e.g. by falling or hitting the ground (or by a physical assault), buffered pictures for processing remain in its memory, and are not overwritten with new ones...” Thus, he was able to post images on his blog of his attackers and potential witnesses (with important details deliberately blocked out).
Sadly, the Paris police and the consulate were not very helpful at all. And incidentally, this isn't the first time something like this has happened; Mann came across in his research an item about a travel agent from Idaho being assaulted by McDonalds staff in Paris, France, for taking a photograph of their menu. Mann, meanwhile, has had little luck contacting anyone official at McDonald's. “I'm not seeking to be awarded money. I just want my Glass fixed, and it would also be nice if McDonald's would see fit to support vision research,” he explained.
The story has since been picked up by a number of different media sites, including Ray Kurzweil's site. They received a statement from McDonald's regarding the matter, which they posted. “We share the concern regarding Dr. Mann’s account of his July 1 visit to a McDonald’s in Paris. McDonald’s France was made aware of Dr. Mann’s complaints on July 16, and immediately launched a thorough investigation. The McDonald’s France team has contacted Dr. Mann and is awaiting further information from him.
“In addition, several staff members involved have been interviewed individually, and all independently and consistently expressed that their interaction with Dr. Mann was polite and did not involve a physical altercation. Our crew members and restaurant security staff have informed us that they did not damage any of Mr. Mann’s personal possessions.
“While we continue to learn more about the situation, we are hearing from customers who have questions about what happened. We urge everyone not to speculate or jump to conclusions before all the facts are known. Our goal is to provide a welcoming environment and stellar service to McDonald’s customers around the world.”
Whoever you believe, this entire incident raises some very real concerns, especially if Google hopes to see its Project Glass really take off. If usage of such recording devices becomes more widespread, will incidents like this happen more often? What kind of future will cyborgs and users of augmented reality devices – whether they use them for fun or to help with medical problems such as eyesight or Alzheimer's – face? Please share your comments below.
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