Mediated Reality: University of Toronto RWM Project

Dr. Mann describes his WearComp (“Wearable Computer”) invention as a tool for “Mediated Reality”. WearComp originated in the context of photographic tools as true extensions of the mind and body and evolved into a philosophical basis for self-determination, characteristic of the Linux operating system that runs on WearComp.

As I wrote last month, I am an inventor who likes to think outside the box and chose to use the Linux operating system because it gives me a programming environment in which the box is not welded shut. I described my framework for human-machine intelligence which I call Humanistic Intelligence (HI). I also described the apparatus of an invention I call “WearComp” that embodies HI. In particular, I outlined some of the reasons for choosing Linux for WearComp and emphasized how problems like that of software fascism are much more pronounced on WearComp than they are in the context of regular desktop computing.

In this article, I will explore practical uses of WearComp. I will also explain how WearComp turns the traditional business model of real-world information space (e.g., advertising) upside down.

Summarizing briefly, WearComp is a wearable computational device that provides the user with a self-created personal space. The most fundamental issue of WearComp is that of personal empowerment (see Resources 1). I will show by way of example how WearComp provides the wearer with a self-created visual space. I will also describe the concept of “Mediated Reality” and the use of a “visual filter” that allows the wearer to create a visual attention access control system.

Problem Statement

If the eye is the window to the soul, then our soul is available for anyone to steal. Our visual attention is a valuable resource that can be consumed by billboards, distracting advertising and other material often thrust upon us against our will.

Solitude is a valuable form of humanistic property all too easily subject to theft.

I am taking the liberty of using these strongly judgmental words—steal and theft. Such strong wording, however, is already present in the context of intellectual property. We readily accept terms like “software piracy”, which make an analogy between someone who copies a floppy disk and someone who seizes control of an ocean-going vessel, often killing everyone on board. An analogy between such gruesome mass murder and copying software ought to raise certain questions about our social value system. Thus, against this backdrop, I believe that use of terms like theft and steal are not out of line in the context of what I call humanistic property.

Those who steal our solitude not only take away humanistic property, but force material upon us that can put our lives in danger.

Advertising is an evolving entity. In the old days, there were fixed signs with a static display of company slogans. Once we became accustomed to these signs, new ones were invented with more distracting and vibrant colours and even moving parts to fight for our attention. As we became accustomed to these signs, they were made brighter. Concepts such as light chasers, lamp sequencers and the like were introduced so that motion arising from sequentially illuminated bulbs could further distract us.

Then came the pixel boards, which also got brighter as we became accustomed to them. Some pixel boards use as many as 2000 watts per pixel. When lights this bright are put along major highways, they pose a serious threat to road safety. Still, we do our best to ignore these distractions and keep our eyes on the road or on whatever task has our attention.

The latest trend is something I call “signal-band advertising”. It tries to trick us by resituating advertising (“noise”) into what we perceive to be a “signal” band. For example, we are now seeing WWW banner advertisements with an imitation of a cursor; thus, the user is momentarily tricked into thinking there are two cursors on his screen. The advertisement contains what looks like a cursor, which moves around very much like a real cursor normally does. These kinds of ads are the cyberspace equivalent of trying to get attention by yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater.

Another example of signal-band advertising exists on parking-lot booms. By renting a sign on the boom of a parking lot, advertisers can further confuse drivers by placing ads where only road signs would normally be. We now need to distinguish between advertising and important road signs, both of which are directly in our path in the center of the road. The advertising is no longer only off to the side of the road. This theft of visual attention makes it that much harder to see stop signs and other important traffic markers.

Perhaps next, advertisers will start to make their signs red and octagon-shaped and hang them on lamp posts along the street, so they will be able to grab even more of our attention. A red octagon, with a product slogan in white letters in the center, posted at a busy intersection could get lots of attention and would be harder to ignore than traditional billboards. This is what I mean by “signal-band advertising”.

Those who steal our visual attention are not content to just clutter roads and open public space with advertising, but they appear to also want to intrude on more private spaces as well.