Reciprocal Veillance – Seeing Who’s Seeing You

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Visualizing a video camera’s field of view (Credit: Dr. Steve Mann)

Augmented reality could make one of the most meaningful contributions to personal privacy ever invented by allowing individuals to visualize how they’re being watched.

This week I had the wonderful privilege of learning from, and tinkering with, the person on the forefront of making that happen: Dr. Steve Mann (with whom I recently collaborated on an article published in Forbes).  He and several of his colleagues from Meta (where he is Chief Scientist) and the University of Toronto (where he teaches) taught a day-long workshop on AR at the Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction Conference held this weekend at Stanford University.  Others on hand included such luminaries as Dr. Steve Feiner, the Columbia University professor who coined the term “augmented reality” decades ago, and Ryan Janzen, Dr. Mann’s Ph.D. student who is helping him pioneer the subjects discussed below,

As anyone familiar with Dr. Mann’s work knows, he distinguishes between “surveillance” (watching from above), “sousveillance” (individuals watching the powerful from “below”), and simple “veillance” (which he calls “surveillance with the politics removed”). One of the primary focuses of this workshop was the concept of “seeing sight and visualizing vision”–in other words, using AR to visually represent the fields of vision being used to visualize you. Ryan Janzen conceived the idea of measuring a “veillance field” emitted from a camera/eye in 2012, and first published his thoughts in May 2014 as part of his thesis. Mann and Janzen are now actively developing the means to measure not only where a camera–or even an eyeball–is pointed,  but also the degree to which recording device can see and the change in that degree of vision over time–what they call the “veillance flux.”

The ability to make and render such measurements in real time is not quite there yet (though they do have working prototypes that are impressively close to that goal). In the meantime, Dr. Mann has been graphically illustrating the concept through a photographic technique he calls abakography–which involves taking a long-exposure photograph of lights moved around in space, to make artistic patterns. Dr. Mann invented abakography many years ago, making computerized sequences of flashing light patterns to make artwork. Abakographic photos and videos from the workshop are reproduced above and below.

Veillametrics can be visualized in AR.  When combined with abakography, you get veillametric-abakography, which is another way to visualize veillametrics.  You can see more examples of Janzen and Mann’s work at http://veillametrics.com/ .

One day, individuals may be able to visualize veillance (put differently, to do “reciprocal veillance”) in real time using devices like the Meta Spaceglasses–the signature product of Dr. Mann’s company, which were also extensively demonstrated during the workshop.  Until then, abakographic art will serve as a tantalizing example of just how powerfully AR could level the playing field of veillance and put the management of personal privacy back in the hands of individuals.

This post was edited on Feb. 15, 2015 to refine the description of veillametrics and abkography.

 

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