Green Line Solutions News


Thomas Topp - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sousveillance: Keeping an Eye on Big Brother

Inspired by the previous article highlighting Steve Mann -- the world’s first cyborg -- this is a short piece on Mann’s concept of “sousveillance.”

Surveillance is a french term composed of two parts: “sur,” meaning on or above, and “veillance,” meaning to watch. Therefore, surveillance, or watching from above, has an embedded power dynamic, such that the entity observing is not only often physically above the observed, but also hierarchically above, such as an employer or government agency.

Although surveillance is often associated with video monitoring, observations can also be gathered via cell phone data, telephone tapping, or written correspondence. In today’s world, many of our actions are monitored automatically and most people leave a trail of surveillance evidence while completing their daily activities. Nevertheless, the Oxford English Dictionary offers the “Close observation, especially of a suspected spy or criminal” as the word’s definition (emphasis mine).

However, it is clear that with modern surveillance technology the vast majority of Americans are being watched in some way, even those not under suspicion of crime or espionage. Still, from a utilitarian perspective, if everyone is watched then everyone is safe because people who would cause harm are worried that they will caught.

This idea -- that people behaved when they think they’re being monitored -- is the foundation for Jeremy Bentham's ~1780 concept of a panopticon. Originally, the idea of a panopticon was a prison wherein the inmates’ cells were arranged in a circle surrounding a central watch tower. The tower emitted bright light, allowing the watcher to see the prisoners, but not allowing them to know who specifically the watcher was observing.

The panopticon reemerged in public interest in 1975 when Michel Foucault published Discipline and Punish. Foucault pointed out that the idea of a panopticon could be used by disciplinary governments to subjugate its citizens. In regard to the observed, Foucault wrote: “He is seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication,” and therefore the prisoner self-monitors, fearing punishment.

Many social scholars argue that modern day America functions much like the panopticon due to the nearly ubiquitous use of video surveillance by businesses, city governments, and even private residents. Without someone monitoring the watcher, this entity is able to use fear, and often punishment, perhaps unfairly and without recourse.

Because of this unease, a new form of monitoring is sometimes employed by those who would otherwise be the watched. Steve Mann coined the term “sousveillance,” contrasting the French term for above (“sur”) with the word for below (“sous”).

Sousveillance, therefore, alters who has the ability to monitor; the use of “sous” denotes that the monitoring equipment is both physically lower, often mounted on a person rather than an edifice or telephone pole, as well as hierarchically lower, belonging to the individual and not an agency or government.

Sousveillance is often recorded from the first person perspective and does not necessarily have a social or political agenda. In a slightly different vein, the term “inverse surveillance” is a subset of sousveillance in which an individual who is normally the subject of surveillance monitors the actions of authority figures for inquiry or their own protection.

While it is generally true that people behave better when they know they are being monitored, an unchecked use of surveillance could foment into the gross misuse of power through oppression and suppression. It is because of this budding inequality that activists and political watchdogs have adopted the use of sousveillance in an attempt to level the playing field.


Virtual Reality Series Part IV

Thomas Topp - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This article is the fourth and final in a short series about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR); having discussed the origins of the concepts and the applications of the technologies, and contemporary devices, this article will focus on adopting AR as a lifestyle.

Virtual Reality Series

Part IV: The Evolution of Mann

Steve Mann -- Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Chief Scientist of the Rotman School of Management's Computer Design Lab -- is known as the “Father of AR” for good reason: he has been living in what he calls “computer-mediated reality” for over thirty-five years.

Mann’s current HMD, or what he refers to as “computerized eyewear,” is known as EyeTap Generation 4 and is physically attached to his skull, such that special tools are required for its removal. Because of this, Mann has been called "the world's first cyborg" by the Canadian press, though he himself dismisses the term as too vague.

Mann -- who has a doctorate in Media Arts from MIT, a Bachelor’s of Science degree, as well as both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree of Engineering -- is Founder and Director at both the FL_UI_D Laboratory and the EyeTap Personal Imaging Lab. On the FL_UI_D website, Mann describes the group as one that “designs, invents, builds and uses wearable computers and digital prosthesis in ordinary day-to-day settings.”

Mann explains why he prefers the term “mediated reality” in his article published by Spectrum IEEE,

My computerized eyewear can augment the dark portions of what I’m viewing while diminishing the amount of light in the bright areas … For example, when a car’s headlights shine directly into my eyes at night, I can still make out the driver’s face clearly. That’s because the computerized system combines multiple images taken with different exposures before displaying the results to me... I say that it provides a “mediated” version of reality.

While the “less interesting” AR is described as “the overlay of text or graphics on top of your normal vision.” Mann points out that this often makes eyesight worse, not better, by “obscuring your view with a lot of visual clutter.”

Mann believes that once a person has experienced day-to-day life with computerized eyewear, they’ll understand the numerous advantages it grants and will be reticent to give up new abilities. For example, Mann explains that his EyeTap includes an infrared camera capable of detecting subtle heat signatures, which allows him to “see which seats in a lecture hall had just been vacated, or which cars in a parking lot most recently had their engines switched off.” Additionally, the EyeTap can enhance text, making it easy to read signs that would otherwise be too far away to discern or that are printed in foreign languages.

In 2013, Google released its own version of the EyeTap, called Google Glass. The prototype was the first widely-known and commercialized computerized eyewear, though its development followed more than a decade after Mann’s first Generation EyeTap. Despite the many strides made by Mann over thirty years, Google Glass failed to incorporate several features that reduce eyestrain in the wearer.

Mann is expanding his influence and spreading his knowledge of wearable technology through work with his companies and with the IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Decades ahead of the curve, Mann’s innovations continue to break down the barriers between man and machine.


Virtual Reality Series Part III

Thomas Topp - Thursday, February 09, 2017

This article is the third in a short series about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR); having discussed the origins of the concepts and the applications of the technologies, this article will focus on contemporary VR and AR devices on the market. The next and final article will be a case study on adopting AR as a lifestyle.

Virtual Reality Series

Part III: Contemporary VR and AR Devices

Today’s commercial VR devices are either mobile or tethered; that is they either work off of a smartphone, or require a physical connection to a computer or game console. Obviously, each option has its advantages and drawbacks, such as portability versus definition.

Several devices are currently on the market, falling into one of the two categories; Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, for example, are mobile, while the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are tethered.

Mobile headsets are two lenses in a cardboard or plastic shell that has a slot for a smartphone. The software splits the screen into two almost-circular identical images, while the lenses bend the light so that the user perceives a 3D landscape. Because these headsets do not have hardware of their own, they tend to be inexpensive.

Additionally, because the smartphone is used as the monitor and VR system, the headset can be worn anywhere. However, smartphones are not specialized for VR and therefore they do not offer comparable graphics to tethered VR devices.

Tethered devices are able to offer a more complex experience by relegating the computing and processing to the VR or gaming console. Tethered devices also tend to offer better head-tracking and less image lag thanks to the built-in motion sensors and camera(s).

Beyond having to be physically connected to the console, tethered devices are also more expensive than mobile units because they are more than just a shell. Users would have to own the PlayStation 4, for example, and then by the PS VR for about $400 plus any add-ons and accessories; while PC-based platforms require powerful computers.

Mobile Devices

  • Samsung Gear VR ($85) offers on-board touchpad and a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, but the refresh rate is dependant on the phone.

  • Google Daydream View ($50) is the least expensive option but the resolution and refresh rate depend on the phone.

Tethered Devices

  • Sony PlayStation VR ($400) includes external visual positioning, a field of view of 100 degrees, and a refresh rate of 120 Hz, but the resolution is 960 by 1,080 pixels (per eye).

  • HTC Vive ($800) includes camera and external motion tracking with 110 degrees of visibility and 1,080 by 1,200 pixel resolution (per eye), but is run off of a PC and is the most expensive VR package.

  • Oculus Rift ($700) includes external visual positioning, a field of view of 110 degrees, and 1,080 by 1,200 pixel resolution (per eye), but the refresh rate is 90 Hz and it requires the Oculus Touch or Xbox One Gamepad.