July 12, 2007
I may have an unusual affinity for hardware, but Steve Mann is in a class of his own. He lives the hardware. Steve Mann may be the world's original cyborg.
Steve Mann, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto, has lived as a cyborg for more than 20 years, wearing a web of wires, computers and electronic sensors that are designed to augment his memory, enhance his vision and keep tabs on his vital signs.
Mr. Mann has been exploring the frontiers of wearable computers since 1980.
Steve is evidently at version 7 of his wearable computer. I'm surprised he hasn't updated the rig since 1999.
There was a flurry of interest in his work in 2001, which coincided with a book and a movie made about Steve. There's a companion article on LinuxDevices describing how to build a similar rig from 2001, but it feels ancient by today's standards.
It's hard to tell what's currently happening in the field of wearable computing. Steve's personal web page is a shambles; nothing is dated. The MIT wearable computing page hasn't been updated since 2005, and the Wearable Computing home appears to be in a state of limbo. At least Andy's wearable computing resource looks like it's being updated on a regular basis.
Somehow, I thought the cyborgs would have a more compelling web presence.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I'm starting to think this blog needs to be renamed hardwarehorror.com. ;o)
It's hard to update your website when you spend all day on CyborgSpace
You might want to check out Thad Starner's work at Georgia Tech. It doesn't have a lot of the juicy hardware specs but it shows off a good bit of interesting research.
The wearable computer I have access to consists of an OQO, MicroOptical display and a Twiddler. We also have a WristPC keyboard and a decent bluetooth headset for alternate inputs.
I bet he got all the chicks in 1991 with that rig. How could they resist? Like shooting fish in a barrel.
Steve's personal web page is a shambles; nothing is dated.
A sure sign of an academic lightweight.
I heard some weeks ago from a friend who described quite similar technologies which his professor is researching at the University of Toronto. You can find the site concerning it at the following url, but I don't think there is a whole lot on the project in particular. http://www.eyetap.org/
I would post his description and comments on it, but it's a bit lengthy, so again a link will have to suit: http://www.zybez.net/community/index.php?showtopic=848962view=findpostp=7281486
Thanks for the entry; this is sure to be interesting [although I'll admit you have yet to disappoint!].
Sorry! I hadn't realized you'd already mentioned that site. :P Ah well, perhaps the other link will yet be of interest.
He is using hardware to replace life, not augment it: he is doomed.
I dunno. GPS. Smart phones. Wearable computers are mainstream now. They just don't make you look like you're re-enacting Universal Soldier in your parents' basement :)
(I mean that with the utmost respect.)
"Wearable computing" is almost as fashionable a phrase as "information superhighway."
He might want to throw in a wearable Norelco for version 8...
Did any of you actually read the links? He lost part of his memory (no pun intended) when they ripped the computer off of him; he could possibly have been brain damaged, according to his doctors. It's nothing to joke about.
I've heard of him before, and no I dont think a cyborg would have such strong web presence. Just like your earlier blog post about walled gardens: the web is full of walled gardens, which from a technical perspective are completely useless since they go out of date. I"m sure he sees the web quite differently. Then again, he may just be relatively antisocial. none of his pictures show him smiling.
BTW: your captcha says the word 'orange' every single time I post. Now is this really effective, or just a nuisance? If it doesn't change words from time to time, how will it divert a bot? All one needs to do is make a script enter the word orange every time. Just a thought.
I think that his equipment is outperformed by today's smartphones...
except for the display glasses.
Maybe he's already surfing the Web 4.0 and that's why we can't find him.
I think I met this guy at a party at MIT one time. That was probably around 1995 or so. He was a bit...different. :)
As augmented as he may be, Steve lives in the real world. Why exactly would he need another presence? The web is pretty lame when compared to what he's (what we've all) got, no?
On the topic of this blog... I recently added it to my aggregator but I might pull the plug soon. I miss the old coding stories. Oh well, can't have it all.
Geez, Steve's site is terrible. Someone local to him should offer to implement DasBlog or similar for him and move his stuff across.
Interesting concept Sousveillance, because when I have a chance to think about conspiracies I've always believed that the best way to implement Big Brother was to get the populace to watch each other by making it fashionable. I could say that this has already been implemented by giving every mobile phone user a camera on their device which we saw come used in 9/11 and the bombing of London. Steve takes this to the next level and opens really interesting views on the rights of an individual to record their day which involved other people who equally have the right to privacy.
Back to my original comment though, I would think that an enthusiastic effort into migrating Steve's work to the current web trends would encourage him and reveal a lot more about his work.
If the twitter folks see this... all hell will break loose
He's not a cyborg, since the parts aren't *part of* his body, grafted or implanted. He's just wearing it all. Neal Stephenson dubbed this sort of guy a "gargoyle".
This is how the cybermen started!
TraumaPony: He didn't lose part of his memory when he took off the computer. He lost the instant access he had come to rely upon, his reference material. Suppose I go to class, and I take solid notes regarding the lecture. You then steal my notes before I get a chance to study them and commit the information retained therein to memory. I have not lost part of my memory. Nothing I already knew disappeared. I lost the opportunity to review that stored data, and add it to my memory.
He artificially augmented himself, and he adapted so well to these augmentations that their later removal caused major distress. He dropped below his levels from before the cyborg-ness, because he had allowed his natural abilities to atrophy while using his technological crutches. There was no risk of brain damage from removing his rig, only psychological damage from his equivalent of you tearing out your own eyes.
I really love to visit this site because the posts are always very interesting. I'm just curious, how many feed subscriptions currently do you have on your reader?
This wearable tech reached its pinicle when the iPod mod became available that let's a woman (and maybe a man) both listen to music and feel hip-pleasure.
Come on people, should we really promoting this type of research?
You've seen Star Trek and the Borg, right? Where do you think it all started! :)
Back in grad school I had a class with a woman who came from the wearable computing world at MIT; she attended class with monitor-glasses and a portable cpu attached to her hip. But the most interesting accessory was her one-hand keyboard (the 1998 photo above shows this). She was able to type all her notes during class, and even participate in the discussion, without missing a step.
It's easy to see--literally--why wearable computers didn't really take off, but the one-hand keyboard strikes me as a better portable input device than many smart-phone keyboards. I wonder what happened to it.
I thought the Borg started with Second Life.
He probably keeps a diary instead of updating his website.
Alright...gotta say it...worst post ever! What's going on here? A little bit o' filler methinks. A cyborg? No, not exactly. A goober/super-nerd? Most definitely.
Dang it. I wanted to do this-
I was thinking something more along the lines of a linux tabletpc on my back with one of those 3d gaming headsets with webcam innards taped to the front... Some kind of usb gps unit... usb pedometer...
From there, it's software.
He may look harmless, but peel off the shades, plastic skin and obviously-fake stubble and you'll find a gleaming steel killing machine, ready to rip out your brain and fuse into a heartless exoskeleton. Oil up the field gun and stock up on ordinance - the war is about to begin!
"...has lived as a cyborg for more than 20 years.." Yeah, and I'm the Terminator.
Looks like none of his computer inputs ever told him to shave. Perhaps not enough money left over from buying parts to afford a razor?
I would like to see his rig today however, and wonder if long term exposure to additional input does damage to normal sensory functions (or heightens them, though unlikely).
I don't know what's going on with wearables now, but I got briefly interested in it in college. Then some of the more interesting academic research was basically adaptive UI. The wearable is an interesting thing to use when trying to develop smarter computer interfaces because it's both more restricted in input and display, but also has more interesting context (since it's always on and often attached to your body as you go about your life). So people were looking in to identifying where you were and observing your usage and general habits, and then software would try to learn from that to present you with the most useful stuff in the interface. There's also augmented reality (projecting graphics into the display and registering them with the real objects you see through the display even as you move around) which is interesting.
Matt Hempey: the one handed keyboard (Handykey), is a bit obscure and not well known, and it also is very difficult to learn. It took me about a month to get decent at it, and I lost it very quickly after I stopped using it.
For more about wearable computing hardware, try these sites:
It looks like Steve Mann has been focusing on other stuff recently rather than mainly working on the wearable hardware. One key part of his wearable computing work is the concept of countering all the surveillance that goes on in the modern world by carrying your own surveillance gear with you all the time -- that there should be equality in surveillance between individuals and institutions.
I saw some of his stuff at MIT. I think the guy's a true genius. A living character out of early Marvel comics.
I kept thinking I'd find a document somewhere for "Secrets of the Mann sensorsuit", with cool cut-outs detailing all the gadgets.
My wife is a cyborg. She's a type 1 diabetic, and she has an insulin pump. Of course, unlike the guy in the post, her gadgets are actually useful.
Call that a cyborg? There's a difference between looking like a cyborg, and being a cyborg.
Professor Kevin Warrick of the University of Reading in the UK is a true cyborg...
Maybe he hasn't updated his wearable computer because he met a human female and she won't let him go outside looking like a retard?
Amen Kai Tain! I was about to say the same thing. The guy is a complete dork who makes everyone in the technology industry look bad.
Do we really need to be putting people like this up on a pedestal?
At least he changed clothes after wearing them from 1991 till 1995.
He went to work for Skynet.