Volume 4, Issue 2
December 2009

Case Study: The Human Rights Travails of Prof. Steve Mann as a Partial Cyborg in 2008

Steve Mann, Ph.D.

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Steve Mann, Ph.D. during the 4th Annual Colloquium on the Law of Futuristic Persons, December 10, 2008, at the Florida Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc.

Dr. Mann, a professor within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto, describes documenting the last thirty years of his life within a computer-mediated reality, or a computer-generated world, having recorded each waking moment via a wearable computer of his own design.

I'm going to talk a little bit about the notion of an inverse Transbeman. To start with, I would equate a Transbeman[1] to a computer moving towards personhood; I use a square to represent a computer and the circle to represent a person. An inverse Transbeman or I-Transbeman is this notion of a person moving towards computerhood.


These two are in some sense inverses of one another and the notion of uploading hasn't come to us yet but will soon; we are looking at hypothetical laws and hypothetical situations whereas, with this other concept we are looking at things that we can actually do here and now, that are real, that exist at present. Among some of the things I invented is this seeing aid system, electric eyeglasses, a computer-vision system that is a wearable computer which renders everything where if your eye is here, there is this 45-degree beam splitter, it takes rays of eye-ward bound light that would have entered the eye of the wearer and directs them through this imaging system.



When you look right in my eye it looks like I have a glass eye because it's co-located with my eye and it's just imaging there. There is a laser imaging on the other side that redraws and laser lights everything that was experienced, so this ray of light that comes in, real light, is replaced with this ray of virtual light. The ray of real light that comes into the sensing apparatus is also a computer in here, replaced with a ray of real light.

The way that works is this light gets re-synthesized so we see the world in virtual light in a computer-generated world. It sort of looks like a hologram or something. The whole world is a computer-generated man1world. I live in a computer-mediated reality or a computer-generated world. This allows kind of a synergy between human and computer, something I call humanistic intelligence (HI); it's a theory I wrote a look about. It all started out as a paper on humanistic intelligence and humanistic computing as a framework for intelligent signal processing. The general gist of it is that it's a new form of interaction between human and computer; kind of the inverse Artificial Intelligence; maybe something that could pass the Turing Test.[2]

HI is this theory of the human being in the feedback loop of the computational process. The computer that I wear on my body is like a third hemisphere of the brain in some sense. If you have this addition to the body, over time, it becomes a true extension of the mind and body in the cyborg[3] sense. We work with a number of wearable and implantable combined technologies which extend the function of the human in this inextricably intertwined sort of way which forms a feedback loop in which the human and computer are joined together.

We have these different modes of operation. The other mode is that the computer augments or experiences the world, an augmented reality is like little dotted lines that appear along the ground to show you where to go or man3pull up Google Maps and everything on top of superimposed, all this augmentation, overlays, and wearable face recognizer that pops up virtual name tags and all those sorts of things are examples of this augmenting mode.

A lot of those things are the subjects of students that have written Ph.D. theses on these and implemented them running at about a hundred frames per second with a reality window manager and video orbit stabilization and those sorts of things: Planar patches [4] and three-dimensional space, are kinds of problems they solved. The general theory of HI is this inextricable intertwining between human and machine, the augmenting mode.

The most important one is what I refer to as the mediating mode. In other words, like clothing, the computer encapsulates us and mediates our perception of reality. That by far is the most powerful one because it captures the spirit of the encapsulation; the fact that the computer is a mediator or intermediary. The augmented reality with overlays is something that's interesting, but this is the one that really matters because now all of a sudden we are experiencing the world through the computer as an intermediary that encapsulates us like clothing.


I redraw that to make it look like the others in this format in we’re coming through the system. Within this framework it gives us the six-signal flow path. That’s six different signals in this theory of HI that we have a feedback mechanism that's constant, brainwave electrodes and other sorts of connections between ourselves and the machine and also the constant visibility in the eye. We can experience the world directly and affect the world directly and we can also experience and affect the world through the computer system online and what have you. It sort of creates this cyborg being or cyborg entity which is kind of an inverse Transbeman.

We can now ask not just the hypothetical question but the very real question of, what happens when a human is endowed computer capabilities? I started this as a seeing aid to help me see better and as a memory aid and as a third hemisphere of the brain; I ran into a lot of interesting situations which were not so much technical. I think I’ve solved all the technical problems as I've been working on this for thirty years. The real hard, tough problems are more the sort of social, kind of legal, and ethical questions that are being brought up here really come to bear.

One of the things that we might ask, which often comes up, is this notion of the beme [5] camera and capturing man4your whole life, ownership of one's own sensory data. In a sense that this is not really a camera, it's a device that causes my eye itself to become a camera.

It intercepts rays of light that pass through the center of projection of the lens of the wearer’s eye and redraws them laser-like. In some sense it causes the eye itself to become both the camera and display. One of the questions that people often ask me, "Oh, are you recording me? Like a lot of department stores and that say,

"You're not allowed to take any pictures in here." I say, "Well, is a human being who looks at something recording something? Is the human brain a recording device?" What happens if we implant or attach extra computational memory onto the human brain to replace failing memory as we get older; at what point does it become a recording? This is an interesting question that I run into many times.

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[1]Transbeman – a term coined by Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D., Founder of Terasem Movement, Inc., is defined as: “[A] being who claims to have the rights and obligations associated with being human, but who may be beyond currently accepted notions of legal personhood. Examples of transbemans include beings who claim human rights but (a) are of computerized substrate, or (b) have been revived from biostasis, or (c) whose DNA varies significantly from human DNA.”
http://terasemcentral.org/cdescription.html October 22, 2009 9:07AM EST

[2]Turing Test - a proposal for a test of a machine's ability to demonstrate intelligence. It proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which tries to appear human. All participants are placed in isolated locations. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test October 22, 2009 9:12AM EST

[3]Cyborg - a cybernetic organism (i.e., an organism that has both artificial and natural systems). The term was coined in 1960 when Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline used it in an article about the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyborg October 22, 2009 9:23AM EST

[4]Planar patches - a novel method developed for high throughput electrophysiology. Instead of positioning a pipette on an adherent cell, cell suspension is pipetted on a chip containing a microstructured aperture.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrophysiology# October 22, 2009 10:42AM EST

[5]Beme – [A] fundamental unit of beingness, such as a[n] irreducible element of personality, recollections, feelings, mannerisms, beliefs, attitudes or values. Bemes can be shared and achieve prevalence in accordance with the rules of Darwinian processes such as natural selection. Rothblatt, Martine. Beme: Unit of beingness [Internet]. Version 2. Knol. 2008 Aug 21. Available from: http://knol.google.com/k/martine-rothblatt/beme/1uxensuvgv1rs/2 October 22, 2009 11:10AM EST



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