Researcher and inventor
BIOGRAPHY SUMMARYThe concept of wearable technology is finally gaining some traction. Apple finally entered the smartwatch party, and Google’s high-profile Glass project very nearly took off. But it’s not a new idea—in fact, it was pioneered by the American researcher and inventor Steve Mann in 1981.
Steve Mann Overview ‧ read
But as someone who lives on the furthest edge of technological innovation, Mann has also suffered attacks on his personal rights - leading him to begin new research into surveillance, privacy and “cyborg-law.” Here’s our quick-read biography of Steve Mann.
Building the first wearable computer
Mann studied engineering at the McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and it’s safe to say he’s well educated. Mann graduated from McMaster with a BSc degree in 1987, a B.Eng in 1989 and an M.Eng in 1992. He also received a PhD in Media Arts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1997.
Steve Mann founds wearable computing research group
MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte described Mann’s ideas as “very much on the lunatic fringe… it’s one of the best examples of where somebody brought with them an extraordinarily interesting seed and now… people are working on wearable computers all over the place.”
HDR and Steve Mann’s other inventions
Mann’s other inventions and ideas include:
- Chirplet transform , a method of signal processing.
- Video orbits , a method of stitching together multiple photos to produce one panoramic image.
- Natural user interfaces, a type of computer interface that removes the need for text commands or peripherals like the mouse. Well-known examples in use today include multi-touch screens in smartphones and Microsoft’s Kinect.
‘Sousveillance’ inverts surveillance
Sousveillance can include visual and audio monitoring of activities, often from a first-person perspective using wearable devices. It can therefore put power back into the hands of individuals under surveillance. For example, police brutality has often been uncovered by citizens recording their encounters using digital devices.
Mann sees potential in sousveillance for “a transition from our one-sided surveillance society back to a situation akin to olden times, when the sheriff could see what everyone was doing AND everyone could see what the sheriff was doing. ” In our current climate of mass government surveillance, it would be a welcome transition.
Fighting back against ‘McVeillance’
While eating with his family in a McDonald’s in France, three employees took exception to Mann’s EyeTap device and tried to forcibly remove it from his head. Mann was then ejected from the restaurant. Mann has also been stopped by New York City police, the Secret Service, and by numerous airport security guards. They obviously don’t like being under sousveillance.
Mann has coined the term ‘McVeillance’ to describe “one-sided sight,” or how authorities are “watching everyone while forbidding them from watching back.”
In response to this, Mann has teamed up with the IEEE and ACLU to propose the Mann-Wassell law against the prevention of sousveillance.
Mann is a true visionary
It also reveals a lot about our surveillance society. Mann has said he is “often told only criminals were afraid of cameras (by store employees), but then I was told that I couldn't record in those stores.” The hypocrisy is plain to see. The state and corporations believe they have the right to record others, while being protected from being recorded themselves.
Yet rather than sue his attackers, Mann is continuing to shape the world around him through his inventions and research - just as he always has.
Featured image: “Mann Glass Eye 1999” by Glogger is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.