Thursday, 13 December 2012

Cyborg Cops, Googlers and Connectivism

Alexander Hayes

We have become the camera and it has become us. (Aryani, 2012)

©Marco de Angelis

I rarely leave my mobile phone out of physical reach or indeed earshot and it is almost always powered on. It has become my compass, calculator, calendar and main communication channel with literally thousands of contacts in my networked cloud.

You might agree that this is not dissimilar to your own current relationship with this disruptive technology, your personal electronic portfolio. It might also occur to you, upon reflection, the profound impact this technology is now having upon your communications with family, friends and work colleagues. At a stretch you might even acknowledge that your cell-phone is "closer" to you that you ever imagined possible a decade ago, and thus is, in relative terms, wearable.

Project Glass is a research and development program by Google to develop an augmented reality head-mounted display (HMD). The intended purpose of Project Glass products is the hands free display of information currently available to most smartphone users, allowing for interaction with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

Whilst we might recoil aghast at Steve Mann’s predictions as to our wearable, portable and existential future, we must also acknowledge that this consumption of hyper-connectivity is simply yet another transformation in humanity. Given that Project Glass now connects wearers en-mass and ostensibly ensures that they can continue with physical activity hands-free, it creates arguably one of the largest known veillance vehicles into previously unmapped territories that humans already frequent. A hands-free, fashionable and constantly connected technology positions the product well amongst the seemingly unending array of Google's seamless and integrated services.

It is notable that Google's CEO Eric Schmidt is attributed with publicly dismissing privacy concerns as unimportant or as old fashioned according to Dwyer:"When companies sell information for a living, privacy is not their priority."

Irrespective of what challenges Google now faces around its users' privacy, it seems evident that this body-worn technology is set to revolutionize the manner in which we will interact with each other in the not too distant future and conversely how others will interact with that open and captured data thereafter.

At a recent presentation, I expressed my own feelings of unease at the roll-out of body wearable technologies across the Australian Police Force, where officers are conducting trials of location-enabled body-worn cameras and digital video recorders as part of law enforcement activities not unlike what is already fully deployed in the US and UK.

At this brief cross-sector meeting of minds, of surveillance studies experts, academics, law enforcement officers and private investigators, was also an equal proportion of actors, artists, educational technologists and technology service providers. What was apparent from what might sound to be a dissimilar array of roles and occupations at this workshop was a unified interest in what this technology now poses for the law enforcement officer, for the jury and ultimately for either the victim or perpetrator. It became also very apparent at this workshop that in a crowd-filled public, the seemingly innocuous role that a cell-phone is now poised to facilitate, is, in fact an emergent omniscient inverse sousveillance.

I also spoke to cases of the use of the location enabled body worn cameras in sports, medicine, health sciences, utility services, agriculture, manufacturing, engineering, construction and transport to name but a few of the areas where these technologies are being used in an international education and training context. In many of these cases the premise for deployment of these technologies is to build upon and improve existing work practices, selected by seemingly well informed and trusted technical experts, substantially guided by organisational policy and secure data management plans pursuant.

The interoperability between these location-aware body worn technologies now opens new domains of socio-ethical consideration as to the affects that an always-on network will have on humanity as a whole.

Educators will need to shift to a networked learning theory for the digital age, a connectivism [11] so profound the very architectures of participation are set to become only but a loosely bound accreditation arrangement.

"It is widely understood that the area of digital technologies in education covers education through digital technologies. However, it must also, crucially, encompass education about digital technologies, and particularly about their social, sociopolitical and ecological consequences." (Pegrum, 2009)

What is apparent is that the general public will now need to embrace change more rapidly than ever to accommodate a cyborg cop, a omnipresent jury and a recollection of events frame by frame.

Google's first "Glass Session", which demonstrates what it’s like to use Glass while it is built, follows Laetitia Gayno, the wife of a Googler, "as she shares her story of welcoming a new baby, capturing every smile, and showing her entire family back in France every “first” through Hangouts.” (Google+ post, 2012)

Our role has changed from a passive participant in an abstract recollection to a first-person perspective; where we have become the camera and it has become us, in essence a state of Uberveillance.

Image by De Angelis, Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, Cartoons 2012.

This post is based on For more from Alexander Hayes, please visit For information about the 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in Ontario, Canada in June 2013, please visit

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