Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Lifeblogging" Sony Glasses Go Beyond Mere Eye-Tracking

"Lifeblogging" Sony Glasses Go Beyond Mere Eye-Tracking

This article on Gizmodo annoyed me, because it used the word "worrisome" to describe the device Sony is working on. I wrote this piece originally for H+ just prior to it's going on hiatus, but it applies just as much here.


I’d like you to imagine your life on camera. Like a contestant on Big Brother, imagine that your every word and deed is permanently recorded. Your every social interaction, your conversations, even your facial expressions, are logged and documented with time and date stamps, stored electronically with full random access and search functions.

If this Orwellian scenario strikes a note of fear in you, than I would have to say you are one of the millions of people who have listened to a lot of propaganda, and not someone who has seriously evaluated the concept of lifeblogging.

Lifeblogging is exactly what I described above, an electronic record of your life, an external eidetic memory. It may sound scary, particularly if you are someone who has a lot of secrets or is hiding things from others, but it’s one of those things I don’t see as being avoidable for long.

Neither is it something that is going to be forced on us, which is where most people go wrong in their imaginings. This isn’t Big Brother, it’s just a natural evolution of how we are already using technology. We will put our entire lives on camera not because government tells us to, or because the corporations want us to. It will be because we’ve chosen individually to document our own lives for the advantages it will bring to us.

So what will those advantages be which will cause us to voluntarily chose to give up privacy for the “On Camera” life? What could be so great it would be preferable to a camera free existence?

How about VR? I’ve already discussed elsewhere how current smartphones are evolving into the portable VR devices of the near future, but stop for a second and think about how that will occur. For your cellphone to provide you with advanced AR and VR abilities, it is going to have to examine the world around you. It will have to have a camera to see what you see, exactly how you see it. It’s going to have to also communicate with the cellphones around you, and other devices in your environment as well. That network will have to keep track not only of your every motion, but that of every other person, virtual object, real object, and even real objects which are being replaced by virtual objects. That means your phone is already going to be recording your every action. And so will everyone else’s.

But VR alone is only part of it, because you’re not going to spend all your life in VR right? But that phone is still going to have a camera to offer you such features as video conferencing, or for taking sexy pics to send to your sext partner. It will have to be able to locate itself to have real time access to gps navigation and have sensors for who knows how many thousands of other applications will eventually exist. And it won’t just be recording the environment but the data you request, your emails, your IM’s and voicemails, in fact it will record everything you currently have stored on your computer, in your blackberry, your iPhone, etc, all in one place.

And why will you do all this? Because it will make your life more convenient. Because it will enable you to track down that web page you went to six weeks ago which has the perfect joke to tell your buddys. Or direct you to that Wikipedia article which raises the perfect point you want to make in that political post. Or because it will help you prove to your mate that he told you he would take out the garbage and clean the gutters.

But you will use it for more than just that as well. You’ll use it the next time your co-worker harasses you at work, or when the police pull you over for running a red light that was actually green. You’ll use it to prove that you only had two beers at that party and your buddy poured beer all over you which is why you smell like you’re drunk. It’ll be your alibi, your proof that you’re not lying, your means to correct those misunderstandings that come about when circumstances conspire to make you look guilty of something you didn’t do. It’ll prove you didn’t shoot that gun the police found still smoking in your hand.

But I’m sure you can think of thousands of reasons more where having what amounts to a personal black box would prove handy, be they for personal safety, fun, poor memory, or whatever, just as I am sure many of you will think of reasons why you would never want one.

And that is actually the point. Everything I’ve written so far was intended to make many of you consciously think of your objections to being on camera 24/7. Why? Because I’m betting a lot of you are outraged at the idea that a life on camera will make it impossible to do a lot of things many people take for granted.

Because you see, a life recorded is a life held accountable. As congress is currently learning from Jon Stewart and other reporters, when you say something on camera, and then turn around and say the exact opposite later, you appear to be quite a hypocrite when those records are compared side by side.

If you’ve ever read The Truth Machine by James L Halperin then you might have an idea of where I am going here. I don’t think many of the discussions on lifeblogging really consider that a citizen’s panopticon, or sousveillance is in many ways a “Truth Machine.” By having a record of our every action, and those of everyone around us, from our friends, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, on up to our political leaders, we not only potentially provide ourselves with all of the benefits discussed in the sousveillence article, but we also set the stage for a world in which many other problems will become solvable.

Think about the current headlines, from Goldman Sach’s to BP, to Congress. Wouldn’t you relish the chance to hold these people accountable for their actions? How about the Catholic Church? Even if you don’t feel that any of these people did anything wrong, I’m sure that you could name others that you feel should be held accountable for their actions. Indeed, nearly every form of regulation, or business laws, in fact, nearly every law made, exists for one single purpose, accountability.

Think of how much simpler the law could be if no-one could lie to the courts. If both sides always had to present the absolute truth as recorded by their personal lifebloggers. If no criminal went uncaught, and no innocent person were ever wrongfully convicted.

And think about all those objections you might have thought of. How many of them are due to concern that you personally might be held accountable for your actions? That you might not be able to lie about whatever you might wish to lie about? Or maybe fears that you’ll be prosecuted for some minor crime, like smoking pot? Maybe you are worried that people might discover that affair you’ve been having?

It raises a lot of questions as to what privacy truly is, and how we may end up redefining it. How we answer, and where we draw the lines will be a major issue in the years to come. It will probably redefine how we interact with each other on all levels, from the personal to the national. We are already beginning to see the first effects of so many cameras everywhere, from Jon Stewart’s comedy “news” highlighting so many of our public figures hypocrisy, to the thousands of blogs covering everything from news to what people had for lunch, to the current controversy over Facebook. Our world is changing and cameras everywhere are here to stay. As we continue to develop VR and AR technology they will only grow more and more common. I think lifeblogs are inevitable at this point, along with all that they imply.

Who knows, if Joe Quirk is right in his Disgracebook article , it might be the best thing to ever happen to the human race.

“Safe in the permanent gaze of the cold glass eye, their favorite toy, they’ll be good girls and boys…”

Pink Floyd - Fletcher Memorial Home.


  1. For the majority of our history never have there been solid, factually based accounts of events: simple coincidences go down as being acts of God, minor skirmishes become known as turning points in vicious wars, and, through the passage of time, we begin to revere our forefathers as beings of pure heart and immense wisdom. Jesus (if you'll pardon the sacrilege). Many early US presidents; heck, even most families have stories passed down generation by generation of some distant half-uncle (twice removed) who swam across the British Channel -- twice -- in the middle of winter. Through the eyes of history -- the human, prejudiced and coloured eyes that lay witness to things never seen again -- we see not the way things occurred but how they should have as conceived by this current generation.
    So when you tell me that the future will be lifeblogged, I cry a little inside. Not much, though, I'm a dude. Picture a single, manly tear shed in the face of the death of imagination.
    Am I being a bit too harsh? Yes: I'm pouncing on your point about accountability. Hey, y'know what? I'm rather new to these internet arguments, so I think I'll go and try to use one of these newfangled hyperlinks ( to back up my statement, then run off on a tangent. So far as I understand it, the site explains that people will try to justify the condemnation of an individual, or in this case, the condemnation of a group based on the bias that they're "getting what's coming to them" be they lying politicians or teens smokin' dope. I think I said that right. It's just a trick of the mind, of course, we're wired to think that there's some omnipotent entity with a scorecard and pencil ensuring that the tally rounds positive by the time we're ten feet under.
    Of course, the government keeps a running score with your name and is damned well certain to have it cleared ASAP, but lets skip on over that worrisome point for the moment.
    My actual point is, when we can all bring up perfect recreations of past events, we've effectively killed off myths, religion, historical fiction (most of the fun that surrounds archaeology in general), not to mention blasting apart culture and assembling in its place a society based on perfection at all times. "Hey Joe, remember that time Bob ate seven footlong subs?" "...this says that he ate three and one quarter. And no, perfectly."
    I think I'll finish up this rambling essay with one last link: (, this time to Wired: it's about a woman who has the astounding ability to recall nearly any event in her past with the utmost percision. It's also about how she has extreme difficulty getting to bed at night. See, since she has a perfect, objective record of that time she wet her pants in fifth grade and the boy that walked out on her prom, she finds it difficult to get over the bumps in her life. Now, bigger. Worldwide. Obama is promising change, but, hey, so was this guy a few years ago. That never happened. Screw him. I'm voting for the other guy.
    Look what's on TV, a picture of an orphan. How sad. I already donated six hundred twenty two dollars, thirty eight cents to that charity, though, so there's no point in beating my high score. Hey look, there are birds singing outside. There were more on Tuesday ...

    P.S. "This is both an 'exciting' and worrisome ..." --Engadget, [p.1]

  2. @Anonymous. Interesting points, but I'm afraid I must disagree. "My actual point is, when we can all bring up perfect recreations of past events, we've effectively killed off myths, religion, historical fiction (most of the fun that surrounds archaeology in general), not to mention blasting apart culture and assembling in its place a society based on perfection at all times." is the essence of your objection, and I find it to be rather illogical. Does a lifeblog enable humanity to keep perfectly accurate records, yes, but nothing in the future will affect our knowledge, or lack thereof, of the past. Nor does it eliminate any of the varieties of human creativity other than those which we would naturally seek to minimize, such as lying, cheating, or attempts to shirk personal responsibility.

    Nearly every law on the books is written to ensure accountability. You kill someone, you are accountable for it. You rob someone, you are accountable for it. You break a contract, you are accountable for it. We have hundreds of thousands of rules that exist merely to ensure the accountability of every person for their own actions. And we have just as many loopholes and legal excuses to avoid accountability as well. Lifeblogging is a great equalizer. It enables the TRUTH to be known, eliminating the influence of plausible lies and legal maneuvering on justice.

    No advance comes without cost, but the gains which lifeblogging enable would seem to far outweigh the costs.

  3. Nice article Val,

    But the issue I have (in the short term) is only a minority will won't to wear glasses the whole time. I mean, can you really imagine a world where EVERYONE walking down the street is wearing glasses. Because I can't. Personally I would wear them, but some people care about their looks too much.

  4. Oops bit of a typo there. I meant "will want to" not "will won't to", it's early in the morning. :P

    Oh and bookmarked the blog. :D

  5. At the pace with which displays are developing, I would be unsurprised to find glasses bypassed entirely in favor of either contacts, or low cost artificial lens implants.

    Graphane was recently discovered to be an ideal substance for nanoscale quantum well devices.

    Among the applications for quantum wells are as light capturing devices, i.e. Cameras, and as light emitting devices, i.e. displays. A graphene/graphane display/camera is a highly likely development in the not to distant future, enabling microdisplays with individual pixels in the nanoscale, far beyond the ability of the human eye to distinguish different details. An artificial lens could capture 100% of the light entering the eye using an external layer of graphane QW, Process it in an internal computing layer, then deliver it enhanced directly to the retina via an internal layer of QW LEDs.

    Thus, the lens could actually be opaque, yet still be 100% visually transparent.

    Contacts are already being developed and tested in labs, and currently can be powered by radio frequency transmitters. Future lenses are likely use glucose Biofuel cells.

    Essentially, I use "glasses" to describe the future VR/AR interface out of simplicity. Glasses are convenient, cheap, and everyone has a pair, plus current 3D displays are based around wearing glasses. Thus it makes a handy visual reference for my readers. That the actual end product of AR/VR is likely to be contact sized is harder to relate too, and thus sparks a Perceived Ludicrous Level.