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May 13, 2004 
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  • Cyborg research hits mainstream

    TORONTO (CP) -- More than 20 years ago, Toronto researcher Steve Mann's cyborg logs were completely foreign to the mainstream.

    With a video camera attached to his head recording the minutiae of his everyday life, he was often written off as an oddball. There were many who couldn't see the utility of a human-machine hybrid made famous by Hollywood movies like Arnold Schwarznegger's Terminator series.

    But cyborg logs -- or glogs -- are now being talked about amongst tech hipsters around the world and are on the cusp of becoming as common as e-mail.

    When Mann first started using the word sousveillance (sous is French for below), he was mostly met with blank stares. The concept of reclaiming Big Brother style surveillance, employed by department stores and parking garages who track your movements with cameras, seemed bizarre.

    "Instead of watching from above, you're watching from below. We take the cameras from the lamp posts and the ceiling and bring them down to eye level," he explained recently from Toronto's Design Exchange building, where his ideas and inventions are on display for DigiFest, a conference about the interaction of design and technology taking place this weekend.

    That means being in control of what events are captured on film and having the power to transmit those images.

    Enter camera phones. They're paving the way for people to capture moments and share them with the masses, Mann said.

    "The black box flight recorder that you've heard of becomes this walk recorder that keeps a record of your experience."

    Keeping blogs (online diaries) or moblogs (online photo journal from camera phones) was once reserved for dot com geeks. Now citizens in war torn countries are using blogs to give up-to-date accounts of violence and seniors are using moblogs to keep children current on vacations.

    "It takes very little effort," said Mann, who teaches full-time at the University of Toronto. "It's immediate."

    Academics have suggested that glogs empower citizens to become more active citizens by acting as newsgathering machines. One of Mann's first postings on his site,, included following a firetruck to a blaze. A few years later he streamed images from a protest in Toronto where police clashed with poverty activists.

    The next natural step is a wearable camera phone, similar to Mann's eyetap -- a small portable camera that fits over the eye and is controlled by a wireless remote attached to his belt. He wears it a couple of hours a day.

    Most recently, he's been using it to keep a glog of his baby daughter.

    "My daughter will be able to go back and watch herself grow up from my point of view," he said. "The difference with a glog from a photo is that it happens without conscious thought. It just becomes a natural first person account of our day-to-day experience."

    Now that Mann's ideas are coming to the forefront, the Hamilton-born researcher is in high demand. His schedule is filled with keynote appearances at various conferences including a recent event on wind and solar energy for Environment Canada. He's also been called on for advice by companies like Hewlett Packard and Rogers.

    "Twenty or 30 years ago when I was doing this it didn't make sense for a lot of people. Now it makes sense to just about everyone. People can relate to my inventions more now," said Mann.


    Great debate expectations
    As the federal party leaders go through their final rehearsals for this week's potentially pivotal television debates, they will play a single epic moment of history over and over in their heads. Full Column
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