Wendy Syfret of VICE Australia interviews Katina Michael

 Wendy Syfret now Head of Verticals at VICE Media

Wendy Syfret now Head of Verticals at VICE Media

WS: The upsides of these technologies are clear, and shown to us everyday, what are some of the downsides that people may not be considering fully?

  • Cybercrime, illegal material gathering
  • Trust, relationships
  • Privacy, secrecy
  • Covert surveillance, human rights
  • Uberveillance, information manipulation- misrepresentation of data- misinterpretation; context is missing
  • Much more...

WS: Why is it important for people to be aware of their relationship and dependence of technology?

KM: There comes a point where one needs to question whether they are being enslaved by technology or liberated by it. Human autonomy is a quality that makes our life free and grants us the ability to make decisions for ourselves. Some people take breaks away from technology to "live off the grid" by consciously turning off their mobile phones or not taking their laptop with them when they travel for leisure. There are unforeseen consequences when we strap technology to our bodies- and here I am not simply referring to belt buckle smart phone clips on, but full blown wearable technologies, some of these even head-mounted. What happens when we forget technology is even "there" and actively recording the space around us? We may not be impacting our own self, but the camera may be encroaching on the human rights of others. We can argue that this is how CCTV works- that most of us forget it is even on and present- but then wearables are overseen by their wearer, by individuals who may choose to do what they wish with the captured footage and are not regulated by acceptable use policies or procedures.

WS: What are some of the fears that surround physically embracing new technologies and allowing them to join with us?

KM: I wouldn't so much call them fears but unintended consequences. When we put on these technologies do we become a piece of technology ourselves? What does that mean for life-long dependencies? Do we lose our freedom? Are we subjugating ourselves to a life of upgrades? What happens when we wish to take off the camera but feel we cannot because of health repercussions like the focus of our eyes (or even mind) with respect to digital glass. Do we become so enthralled in the online world that we forget about offline functions, like eating and going to the toilet? What kinds of addictions might this new technology ignite? We won't know the answers to some of these questions for some time but we can definitely anticipate some of the major concerns that might eventuate through scenario-based planning.

WS: What are some of the risks if these technologies are misused?

KM: All technologies can be misused. Some technologies however come endowed with intrinsic inherent functionality that lend themselves to greater human risks than others. A table is a piece of technology I use to write letters on, it can be hurled at someone to cause physical harm but that is perhaps the limits of its utility. New technologies that are more complex pieces of innovation are not just products but embedded in processes. The more advanced the technologies the more the harm might be psychological and not just physical. We can learn a great deal from case law- just last month there was an Australian case of how a GPS device was strapped onto a vehicle of a victim by a stranger to stalk them in order to learn about their precise movements. The heinous crime is described here: http://www.theage.com.au/national/woman-chained-to-floor-of-cell-and-raped-over-five-days-20130324-2go0z.html Now I do not wish to extend the analogy here at all- but crimes against the person proliferate, and these technologies might be misused in any number of ways. I have gone on record previously as stating the issues as follows:-- "one can quickly imagine this new technology being misused by cybercriminals- namely for crimes against the person. In effect, we are providing a potential capability to share visual surveillance in real-time with people in underground networks of all sorts- for the distribution of child pornography, for grooming, cyberstalking, voyeurism and even for corporate fraud where "the computer" is the ultimate target." Before too long, direct visual evidence captured might even be used to render an insurance policy void- whether it has to do with rehabilitation, life insurance or any other aspect of life.

WS: Is there any work or proposed work at the moment in these fiels that worry you?

KM: At the moment my primary concern has to do with how people might react to wearers of this technology after the novelty effect wears off.

See "veillance"  community G+ group.

“I am getting not so excited (uncomfortable) looks in public toilets when I pony up to the urinal wearing Google Glass.”
— Brandon Allgood

KM: This reminds me of the alleged repercussions of Mann wearing his camera at a McDonalds store in France. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/steve-mann-attacked-paris-mcdonalds-digital-eye-glass-photos_n_1680263.html

Please also read the issue with people accepting the "video evidence" in place of eyewitness accounts or otherwise. Supposedly direct evidence cannot lie- but in my opinion the wearer is in control of their point of eye and what they choose to record or not to record. See this blogpost: http://veillance.me/blog/2013/3/12/censoring-with-glass-yes-video-has-its-limitation-too

I also hold grave concerns for how Google Glass will affect minors, especially children in general: http://veillance.me/blog/2013/2/19/the-muffin-man

The abuses of Digital Glass, at least in the first few months by trial participants won't show the ugly side of wearable recording. No one exploring the ugly side of Glass is going to post up their video of a heinous application-- they will for the present go undetected.

Aside: Simply the difference between a handheld recording device and a body worn recording device is that you have two hands free in the latter case.

WS: If you allow me to be dramatic, what's the worst thing that could happen if people totally embrace the melding between humans as we know it and these technologies?

KM: We become something other than human and we lose our ability to differentiate between reality and augmediated reality. In essence we lose control over our decision making processes either because we cannot distinguish what is real and what is not or because we cannot transition between the online and offline world. We become like a vinyl record which has been scratched with an inability to move on.

It is cute when people paint a picture of Digital Glass as being able to help us recollect memories and the like- but actually in the real world why would people wish to make records of ultra painful moments in their life? Is it healthy to replay moments of suffering, wrong doings and the like? Does this propel positively the development of an individual human being (either the offender or the sufferer)?


Perhaps there is a potentially ugly side to POV and the glamour of capturing “every moment of your life”... While going through a bitter divorce most people would be inclined to naturally try to move on by deleting or removing images and video footage from sight when for a variety of reasons things just don’t work out. What then to POV if taken in the same way as a reality TV show?

This is true of any relationship- not just marriages... the same can pertain to partnerships, friendships and the like.

There are some who would discount that there is an ugly side to real-time POV... but what next? A break-up video? How I caught you on camera with someone else? The swearing and the shouting captured while the children are crying? The tears that follow and the anguish?

The point I am trying to make is that there is an occasion for all things. A video invitation is a great idea for the happy couple who want a “time capsule” to remember perhaps the most carefree time of their life... something that can be handed down to children as a long-lasting representation of love in the immediate family. But those who tout real-time POV, all the time for every occasion, have to rethink what “always on” REALLY means and the consequences of such an existence.
— Katina Michael

WS: In your opinion, what should people be worried about? Or maybe, looking out for?

KM: People need to think about what it means to record others without their permission whether in a public or private space. Checking in at a location might mean revealing someone's personal information for instance without their permission. We also need to think about the convergence of Digital Glass with social media and other apps out there. We must not be naive about the uses- history has proven time and time again- early adopters of new technologies will exploit them in ways that were never intended and not beneficial to society. The problem with unleashing a technology that has no real obvious utility is that we are letting the imagination stretch- that might be great for app building and creative industries- but also might be ugly with respect to negative uses. We like to read about novel applications and "benefits to humanity" stories but don't like to venture into stories of abuse.

We often forget about the asymmetry that comes with new innovations, or belittle the side effects as being applicable to the unlucky few and teething problems of a prototype. Tell that to the mother of a teenager who has committed suicide after her partner has uploaded comprising video/images to the Internet that have subsequently gone viral.  Just one of many cases which are tragic- http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/14/17747411-california-case-another-three-part-tragedy-of-rape-cyber-bullying-and-suicide?lite The point here is not that the attackers would not have done what they did without a smartphone to take pictures of the attack but that in the future we will simply see more explicit evidence. Our acts might be seen as a part of a reality tv show, but wearers might not realise the repercussions of their actions in the physical world.

We need to introduce adequate policies within for instance the educational use of digital glass, the workplace use of digital glass, and need to educate consumers using scenarios about when it might or might not be appropriate to turn on glass. The other issue has to do with legislation. Wearers might find themselves in conflict with the law and they need to know their rights but also when they are breaking the law by their actions. In this case, one size does NOT fit all.

WS: You mentioned Francis Fukuyama calling these some of the worlds most dangerous ideas, what does that mean?


KM: It has to do with the nature of control and surveillance. Fukuyama looks at the impact of drones and their consequences. You will find his work quoted in many places- he is a political scientist at Stanford University.

WS: Could these technologies fall into the "wrong hands"?

KM: Sure they can. Imagine a crowd full of people wearing Glass and recording- now imagine trying to capture someone who is conducting covert surveillance? A bit of an oxymoron. This leads to the privatisation of intelligence gathering (spy agencies not of that given State). I have written a blogpost talking about human drones-- wearers of cameras that act like drones, being paid potentially to gather first-person video up and down public streets- for applications in retail among many others. http://veillance.me/blog/2013/2/5/drones-r-us

WS: What could the consequences of those be?

KM: We lose our trust in social structures where we have previously felt safe. This breaks down the very fibres that make society work. There is an immediate chilling effect- people, especially those suffering from mental illness will find it difficult to venture out into "safe" zones for fear of being recorded or otherwise.

WS: Are people ignorant to the changing world around them?

KM: I think for the greater part people are aware of the rapid changes happening via new technologies but feel powerless as to what to do about it. They also do not have time to sit and think about the implications of policies they have agreed to because things move at webspeed and no sooner have they adopted one technology than they are barraged with even newer technologies to "try and buy". It is an endless spiral- we have to have the latest gadget these days, or be on board the latest social media app making waves or we simple aren't with it etc. Ask most technology developers/providers these days and they will sell you the story that new technologies will enable you to be empowered. Yes, I agree, if used the right way you can certainly apply new technology for good, to help in time management, for reflection, for knowledge discovery and knowledge sharing. But these new technologies are also changing the dynamics between how people communicate, engage one another, and belong to a group or community, at times detrimentally, lending themselves to anti-social behaviours either deliberately or through negligence.

Where will all this data be stored? Who will have access to it? What are individual privacy rights? Intellectual property rights? Do we "YouTubify" our life? How does that profit us? What are the risks of the new PersonView world? What next? Implantable cameras? * here is a patent by Steve Mann in 2000 on the implantable camera-- http://brevets-patents.ic.gc.ca/opic-cipo/cpd/eng/patent/2313693/summary.html?query=implantable+camera&start=1&num=50&type=basic_search


Are we thus beckoning forth an uberveillance society? Always on implantables? Big brother on the inside looking out?