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Living in a Smart World -- People as Sensors

Two University of Wollongong academics are playing key roles in a major overseas symposium which features the pioneer of wearable computing, Professor Steve Mann, and a person recognised as the ‘Father of Artificial Intelligence’, Professor Marvin Minsky.

Steve Mann will be the general chair of the 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS13) taking place in Toronto, Canada from 27-29 June. The theme of this conference is SmartWorld. SmartWorld includes smart people -- not just smart grids, smart infrastructure, smart homes, smart cars or smart appliances.

Associate Professor Katina Michael from UOW’s School of Information Systems and Technology is the program chair of ISTAS13.

“Smart people interacting with smart infrastructure means that intelligence is driving decisions,” Professor Michael said.

“People wearing sensors (e.g. temperature, physiological characteristics), location data loggers, microphones, cameras, tokens, and other wearable and embeddable systems can see direct benefits for a host of applications including health and well-being, emergencies, convenience, and care-oriented solutions.”

However, Professor Michael said these emerging technologies and applications have the potential to become controlling applications because they are used for example to make decisions, generate alerts and log employee movements.

“There are great socio-ethical implications that will stem from these technologies and fresh regulatory and legislative approaches are required to deal with this new environment,” she said.

Professor Michael believes the time for discussing wearable computing and augmented reality in everyday life is now.

“Widespread diffusion of wearables has not yet occurred and the time for discussing the potential implications of these technologies is now. Law enforcement officers in Australia are already trialling these always-on recording devices as are members of the private security industry. In-car video recorders have been used officially and unofficially in a number of police forces over the last 10 years. What does it mean when the everyday citizen puts on the same equipment and presses the record button taking video images of those around them?”

Professor Michael highlighted how earlier this year Google launched their Glass Project in concept and they believe they will be going to market by 2014. Microsoft and Apple and a number of other smaller vendors are also developing this new technology at rapid speed.

“Are we ready for this explosion in personal recording devices that log the world around us? This is a particularly pertinent question for those people who will not be adopters of the technology. There is an asymmetric power relationship between wearers and non-wearers. The law, especially privacy and surveillance device laws, lag far behind in Australia and most other jurisdictions.”

Professor Mann, formerly a member of the MIT Media Lab under the guidance of Nicholas Negroponte in the late 1990s, is a pioneer in the wearable computing field. Professor Mann is the general chair of ISTAS13 and will be speaking in the opening keynote panel with acclaimed Emeritus Professor of MIT Media Arts and Sciences, Marvin Minsky who wrote the groundbreaking book The Society of Mind and who has been long considered the ‘Father of Artificial Intelligence’.

Other scholars who will be speaking at the conference in the domain of social implications include David Brin, a well known futurist and author; Science, Technology and Society scholar Associate Professor Natasha Schüll of MIT; Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media, and Culture, Dr Isabel Pederson of UOIT; and Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Dr Ann Cavoukian.

Mr Alexander Hayes, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Informatics at the University of Wollongong is studying the social implications of using point of view technologies in an everyday training and education context. He is especially interested in the effects of location-enabled body worn wearables and is presently conducting interviews with lead cross-sector and trans-disciplinary representatives before the widespread diffusion of wearables.

There are a number of homegrown organisations in the field of headcams and eyeglass cams, software applications in the augmented reality (AR) space that will also be involved in ISTAS13.

Professor Michael believes that innovation is the foundation of our world- we cannot stop it-- but we can enhance the way we do things.

“The new rapid deployment model for first mover advantage has its obvious advantages for those who are developing the technology but what of the repercussions of the applications on consumers. We cannot just rely on criminal and civil laws to protect citizens. We need to educate people before the misuse of these technologies,” she said.

MEDIA PLEASE NOTE: Alexander Hayes is the Publicity Chair of the conference and can be contacted on +61427996984. Alternatively, Associate Professor Katina Michael is also available for comment on +0431201172.