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Communications of the ACM

Computing ethics

No Limits to Watching?


Google Glass

Little by little, the introduction of new body-worn technologies is transforming the way people interact with their environment and one another, and perhaps even with themselves. Social and environmental psychology studies of human-technology interaction pose as many questions as answers. We are learning as we go: "learning by doing" through interaction and "learning by being."9 Steve Mann calls this practice existential learning: wearers become photoborgs,3 a type of cyborg (cybernetic organism) whose primary intent is image capture from the domains of the natural and artificial.5 This approach elides the distinction between the technology and the human; they coalesce into one.

With each release greater numbers of on-board sensors can collect data about physiological characteristics, record real-time location coordinates, and use embedded cameras to "life-log" events 24x7. Such data, knowingly or unknowingly collected and bandwidth permitting, may be wirelessly sent to a private or public cloud and stored, often for public view and under a creative commons license.2 Embedded sensors on wearers can actively gather information about the world and capture details of a personal nature—ours and those of others too. These details can be minor, like embarrassing habits of less than admirable personal hygiene, or major, such as records of sexual peccadilloes or events relevant to court proceedings.


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No Limits to Watching? from the Nov. 2013 CACM.

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