Owner of custom Google Glass-type eyewear bullied, assaulted while on vacation

Steve Mann, the "Father of Wearable Computing" has his own version of Google Glasses permanently attached to his head. Some employees at a McDonald's in France found that threatening, though, and apparently attacked him for it.

July 1, 2012. A vacation night in Paris for a family who just wants a little taste of home and a quick bite to eat. So they head to McDonalds. But once there, they get more than a little taste of home.

Unfortunately, the employees at this McDonald’s are far from friendly. They assault the father and tear up some important papers of his. I would imagine they scared the heck out of his family, too. Why do they do this? Because of a strange set of hardware permanently attached to Dad’s head.

Steve Mann (the aforementioned Dad) is known as the “Father of Wearable Computing.” I’ve been reading about him for literally decades, from when he used to have videocameras strapped to his head and a battery pack built into his shoes, to now, where he has a single little lens in front of one eye, and a big goofy grin.

Steve Mann has been working on, and using, wearable computing since he practically invented it. Can you tell what the two significant differences are in the picture above? One is that Google hired a model. Steve is many things. He is not a model. (No offense Steve!) The other thing is that Steve’s EyeTap Glass works. It is fully functioning, and a part of Steve’s daily life.

So the family is headed to Paris, with monuments, security checkpoints at the airports, and a foreign government with some unknown laws. So Steve does the smart thing. He gets papers from his doctor, stating who he is, and that this is a medical device permanently attached to his head.

Steve is by nature kind of mild mannered. Soft spoken, and, according to several people, just a really nice guy. Nobody in France gives him a second look. (Pun intended) He has no problems, and everybody is having a great time on vacation, as they should.

Until McDonald’s, where he is questioned, assaulted, and has his papers ripped up in front of him. From his blog:

Subsequently another person within McDonalds physically assaulted me, while I was in McDonald's, eating my McDonald's Ranch Wrap that I had just purchased at this McDonald's. He angrily grabbed my eyeglass, and tried to pull it off my head. The eyeglass is permanently attached and does not come off my skull without special tools. …while the three of them reviewed my doctor's letter and the documentation. After all three of them reviewed this material, and deliberated on it for some time, Perpetrator 2 angrily crumpled and ripped up the letter from my doctor. My other documentation was also destroyed by Perpetrator 1. … Perpetrator 1 pushed me out the door, onto the street.

Interestingly enough, during the assault, they broke Steve’s EyeTap system, stopping the video stream, and leaving the buffer full with pictures of their faces. Oops! In the cop business, we call that evidence. Just a hint.

So, irrespective of the crime and assault aspects of this, we have some interesting socio-technical aspects. What happens when you combine a surveillance society, a desire for privacy by individuals, a desire for no evidence to be generated against them by corporations, and the future of bio-implantable or compatible technology?

It looks like you get some conflict, as evidenced by Steve’s very real experience in Paris. How do you tell someone who has a Google Glass, or a Steve Mann Eyetap Glass, “Don’t photograph that!,” when he’s already looked at it? How do you determine if someone is using one of those systems? This generation still makes it pretty obvious. The next generation won’t, and the one after that might even be implanted.

The future is already here. But the next version is going to get even more interesting.

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