Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Steve Mann has fallen (may he and his wearable rise again).

By rgrant in News
Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 04:28:37 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Renowned wearable pioneer and adamant nonconformist Steve Mann got severly harassed (including strip-searched) by overzealous airport security gate drones, as reported today in At Airport Gate, a Cyborg Unplugged - NYT. Separated from the monitors built into his eyeglasses, confusion overtook him, and he fell and hit his head. He's suing for computer repairs and unspecified mental trauma.

Some details from the article:

[...] Before boarding a Toronto-bound plane at St. John's International Airport in Newfoundland, Dr. Mann says, he went through a three-day ordeal in which he was ultimately strip- searched and injured by security personnel. During the incident, he said, $56,800 worth of his $500,000 equipment was lost or damaged beyond repair, including the eyeglasses that serve as his display screen.

His lawyer in Toronto, Gary Neinstein, sent letters [...]

[...] Without a fully functional system, he said, he found it difficult to navigate normally. He said he fell at least twice in the airport, once passing out after hitting his head on what he described as a pile of fire extinguishers in his way. He boarded the plane in a wheelchair.

"I felt dizzy and disoriented and went downhill from there," he said.

[...] "We have to make sure we don't go into a police state where travel becomes impossible for certain individuals," Dr. Mann said.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o Steve Mann
o At Airport Gate, a Cyborg Unplugged - NYT
o Also by rgrant

Display: Sort:
Steve Mann has fallen (may he and his wearable rise again). | 41 comments (34 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not the first time? (4.75 / 4) (#6)
by mbrubeck on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 12:31:00 PM EST

This isn't the first time Steve Mann has voiced issues with Air Canada. In this May 2000 report Mann complains of lost and damaged luggage (nothing like what he's alleging in the current case), plus some commentary and photos regarding badge-hiding by airline officials. An example of what Mann means by "sousveillance," and some useful context for this article.

Great argument against gargoy.les! (4.87 / 8) (#8)
by sonovel on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 12:55:35 PM EST

This post is a great argument against wearable computing.

I don't want to be so dependant on fragile, expensive hardware that I can't even stand up without it.

Seems like more of a crutch than an enhancement to me. Healthy people are harmed by crutches.

words to live by (3.00 / 2) (#9)
by gibichung on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 01:03:20 PM EST

Healthy people are harmed by crutches.
It's too bad more people don't realize this.

"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it." -- Theodore Roosevelt
[ Parent ]
What is considered a crutch? (4.50 / 2) (#16)
by Ebon Praetor on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 05:37:12 PM EST

I risk starting an off topic flame-war, but I'll ask this anyway. What constitutes a crutch? More simply, where do we draw the line between usefulness and harm from dependency?

Religion, for example, could be considered a crutch. Many people rely on it because it gives them some sort of strength to face the world, but what sort of harm does it do to them? When we remove religion, some of these people are reduced to gibbering nothingness. Their reliance on an unseen and intangible belief has made them weaker because they do not have the strength to believe in themselves or something real. But do we say that religion is particularly harmful?

Same issue with desktop computers. Are we too reliant on the marvels of desktop computing that removal of our little thinking machines will do significant harm to us?

These wearables are just another tool, used to both strengthen and weaken. Mr. Mann has demonstrated what the dangerous effects of over-reliance are, but there is still the possibility of practical and healthy use for a large section of the population. Like cars, these gadgets might reduce some human independence, but their are a large number of useful applications of wearables.

[ Parent ]
Heh (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by trhurler on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 06:26:50 PM EST

I'd be more impressed by "wearables" if anyone actually demonstrated their utility instead of just using them as realtime replicators of what their own senses would already tell them.

The military just might, actually. (US military, that is.) They've got an integrated wearable unit that actually does something useful. We'll see.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
huhwha? (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by Skwirl on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 08:06:24 PM EST

Religion, for example, could be considered a crutch.
Does the word "offtopic" mean anything to you? Since religion is a non-tangible aspect of a person's life, airport security can't take it away from you unless you let them.

"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry sir... (none / 0) (#39)
by rusty on Sun Mar 17, 2002 at 03:00:28 AM EST

...but we'll need you to put that zen through the x-ray machine.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Circular Definition (none / 0) (#25)
by sonovel on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 08:50:21 PM EST

The same principle applies here. As a nice circular definition, a crutch is a device that when used by a healthy person makes them unable to do the same action without it, even though they were capable before.

If Dr. Whatsit can't even function normally and stand up without his devices, and he has no unrelated illness, the devices have caused his normal capabilities to atrophy.

If someone drives a car so much, and avoids walking, he may not be able to walk even a short distance. In that case the car would be a crutch.

If you can't add short numbers without a calculator, the calculator may be a crutch.

And so on.

[ Parent ]
fragile, expensive hardware (none / 0) (#27)
by martingale on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 03:05:07 AM EST

I don't want to be so dependant on fragile, expensive hardware that I can't even stand up without it.
You mean glasses? Try standing up in a room without them if the ceiling is low and you're myopic!

[ Parent ]
Huh? (none / 0) (#30)
by YesNoCancel on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 03:36:51 AM EST

Out of curiosity I just tried that (standing up in a room with a low ceiling without my glasses). No problem at all. And I'm at -6,5 dioptries.

Or did I misundersand something?

[ Parent ]

ahem...fidget (none / 0) (#31)
by martingale on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 04:35:34 AM EST

Pick the answer(s) that applies:

1) All you missed was my feeble and misguided attempt at humour. So you really didn't miss anything at all :-) Sorry.

2) You're not tall enough.

[ Parent ]
Glasses not a crutch (none / 0) (#33)
by sonovel on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 09:43:12 AM EST

If you need glasses to lead a normal life, then they are not a crutch.

If you didn't need glasses and you wore them anyways, and they wrecked your eyes, then they might be a crutch.

Read the story. Mr. Gargoyle became disoriented and fell down without his enhancements. He couldn't function normally without them. That is what makes them a crutch.

So yes, you misunderstood.

[ Parent ]
ugg (none / 0) (#35)
by sonovel on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 01:25:00 PM EST

I shouldn't post early in the morning.

1) the original post and the reply were a joke, but my response took them seriously.

2) Of course glasses are a crutch. The problem isn't with crutches, the problem is healthy people loosing their natural abilities by using crutches _when they aren't needed_.

[ Parent ]
This is just funny. (2.33 / 3) (#10)
by MKalus on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 01:29:05 PM EST

I met him last September and he is definetly a bit "strange".

I also had the chance to visit one of the "public" labs in which some of his Students work and I can tell you that is quite interresting at times.

I am not so sure though that he really got all that "lost" I rather think that was a nice show he did.

Awesome! (3.66 / 3) (#11)
by jabber on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 03:19:04 PM EST

I love stories that go to an extreme, but there isn't really a place to draw a clear line.

People are already cyborgs.. Pace-makers, even glasses are augmentation whose users find indispensable.. I can completely see how depriving Mann of his 'prosthetics' would adversely affect him.. If someone at airport security tried to take my artificial limb (if I had one), it would certainly be a problem.. Hell.. Last I travelled, I felt a pang of anxiety when my PalmPilot was taken from me to be scanned..

This is only going to become more of a problem.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

fake legs (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by ucblockhead on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 06:14:35 PM EST

Which brings up an interesting and scary possibility, since it wouldn't be too hard to hide a bomb in an artificial limb.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Yeah but (none / 0) (#22)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 07:56:17 PM EST

It also isn't that hard to hide a bomb, in, say, a shoe. If you're willing to die along with everyone else on a plane, it gets much harder to stop you. People with artificial limbs should probably have to have them dusted by that little thing that's supposed to find explosive residue, but that's pretty much all that's feasible or equitable.

[ Parent ]
Don't encourage the bastards (none / 0) (#23)
by Christopher Biggs on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 08:01:23 PM EST

For Eris' sake, don't say anything about spectacles!

I don't want the "Kneejerk Nazis" to consider what a glass spectacle lens can do when chipped to a sharp edge.

I get these killer headaches when deprived of my specs...

[ Parent ]

-1, MLP (2.14 / 7) (#13)
by thecabinet on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 04:24:24 PM EST

Copying from the original author doesn't change the section to News.

1 rating (3.33 / 3) (#17)
by ucblockhead on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 06:13:13 PM EST

1 rating given for editorial comment posted as topical.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
What a wanker (1.33 / 6) (#14)
by sisyphus on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 04:34:48 PM EST

why didn't he don a superman suit and fly to wherever he was going to.

What's this guy's juice?

At least the americans can claim he's canadian.

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

The word you are looking for is "genius" (2.50 / 2) (#20)
by earthling on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 07:13:08 PM EST

That "wanker" as you put it is the guy you'll have to thank in a decade or so when wearable computers will become a reality.

Mann is a bit weird, yes, but he is also a brillant inventor and the progress he has made in the last twenty years in simply staggering.

So instead of spouting uninformed nonsense, I suggest you take a look at his work on the CBC's Cyberman website.

"I'm sorry, I had to; the irony was just too thick."
[ Parent ]

Uhhh... (none / 0) (#36)
by gmol on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 02:15:29 PM EST

Could you tell me just exactly are his contributions and staggering progrress?

[ Parent ]
Dude (none / 0) (#40)
by rusty on Sun Mar 17, 2002 at 03:11:46 AM EST

Just look around you man! I mean, sure, we all look like this now, but that picture is actually Steve Mann in the 1970s! Few people even know that he was in fact a key pioneer in developing the Beeblebrox Helmet and early prototypes of the Marqee-O-Mat Personal Lightbulb Wand.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Wearable handicaps (none / 0) (#41)
by PenguinWrangler on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 12:11:05 PM EST

If wearable computers are going to fuck you up to the point where you cannot function normally without them, then I'll pass, thank you very much. This Mann guy strikes me as another Kevin Warwick, actually.
"Information wants to be paid"
[ Parent ]
Jerks. (2.66 / 3) (#15)
by nstenz on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 05:20:38 PM EST

I'd be a little pissed off if someone stripped me naked and ripped electrodes out of my skin. I can understand wanting to X-ray his equipment, but really...

By the way, I hate Air Canada. They screwed up and "lost" my return ticket for a round-trip flight, and then made me pay for it. (I had no idea what I was doing and the girl working took the wrong ticket before my first flight.) I never did get my money back. That charge also put my credit card over its limit for the first time ever. Yep, I hate Air Canada all right.

How does he shower? (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by Raddish on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 07:49:15 PM EST

If he stumbles without his wearable computer working, how does he bathe without falling. Wearable computers and 'cyborgs' are cool and all that , but this is a good example of those limits when placed in an 'unfriendly' environment...those of you who have traveled know this is what most of the world is.

Maybe he doesn't (none / 0) (#34)
by bob6 on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 10:30:58 AM EST

A documentary shows him swimming in the sea, he wears only waterproof material.
IIRC, the doc is titled Cyborg and I was disappointed : there were nothing new about cyborgs.

[ Parent ]
Please ignore the media whore. (3.75 / 4) (#26)
by erp6502 on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 01:25:33 AM EST

I've worked with Steve -- that is to say, I've had him copy my ideas verbatim into his backdated notebooks. I've watched him post my data on his office door with his name thickly scrawled over mine (no kidding) even as he completely misinterprets its significance. I've learned to not submit papers to conferences where he might agree at the last minute to be a program chair (and hence not appear on the call for papers) or for which he's likely to be a referee. He's a slippery, revisionistic scoundrel, not half as clever as he thinks, with a nose for publicity but a profound lack of taste in research.

Check out this recent self-quotation (his formatting, to make you think he's Twiddling it into his wearable) that typifies his sensationalistic non-think:

To that end, consider,
e.g. real-world photonic firewalls
(lightwaveparticle packet filters),
as described in more detail in

According to Barnum, the aim
of advertising was "to extort
advertising, and other visual
detritus form annoying, and
sometimes dangerous clutter at
the sides of busy roadways and
This advertisement,
made in the shape of an
octagon, and painted red, and
placed at the side of a busy
road, is the visual equivalent
of yelling ``fire'' in a
crowded theatre in order to
get everyone's attention to
tell them you have something
for sale.
one possible solution is to
wear protective eyeglasses
that help us see better by
diminishing reality, and
filtering out dangerously
distracting advertisements to
replace them with relevant
subject matter:
The obvious response came within minutes:
... Are you really suggesting that we
strap selectively-opaque glasses on drivers to IMPROVE highway
safety? Zaphod Beeblebrox may have had the luck of a cat, but if
you go strapping peril-sensitive glasses on the general public,
you're going to kill more people than the advertisers. Think.

Maybe a better tactic, though admittedly less exciting than
walking around dressed like a gargoyle, would be to do some data
mining and figure out exactly how many more accidents there are
within a quarter mile of billboards. Then launch the mother of
all class-action suits: billboard owners, ad agencies, clients of
ad agencies, owners of the buildings under the billboards, zoning
boards that allow advertisements on highways, everyone. You may
not change the world, but are you going to go home rich.
Steve is a freak. So are most of us. The difference is that Steve has a following of losers who see in him a disgusting form of redemption for their pathetic existence. Their reasoning must go something like this: "If an ugly, uncouth, uncharming crank like him can become a media darling, then maybe someday I'll be able to buy a cyber-strapon that makes me popular. Oh good, now I have something to look forward to in life [stops wanking long enough to pull gun out of mouth]."

The fact that the media can smell a story doesn't imply that anything Steve does is interesting, novel, of his own invention, or in any case, research. But try to explain that to the lowest common denominator:

"Oh, no, of course I don't understand what he's doing; it's important research. My god, doesn't he ever shower?" [Yes he does -- once a week, whether he needs it or not.]

[...]Last month that changed. Before boarding a Toronto-bound plane at St. John's International Airport in Newfoundland, Dr. Mann says, he went through a three-day ordeal in which he was ultimately strip- searched and injured by security personnel. During the incident, he said, $56,800 worth of his $500,000 equipment was lost or damaged beyond repair, including the eyeglasses that serve as his display screen.
Oh, come on. This stretches credibility beyond the breaking point and only highlights Steve's contempt for others' intelligence. Just like most of his claims, it's a wild exaggeration foisted on the media as an appeal to their need for sensationalism -- one of the skills he developed during his time at the Media Lab, along with a candid approach to self-promotion that allows him to claim with a straight face to have invented a "field" of "research" "on his own".

As a friend pointed out when the story broke early today:

"He is now undergoing tests to determine whether his brain has been affected by the
sudden detachment from the technology."

I don't think that it's the sudden detachment from technology that's affecting his brain :)

Sniff! Sniff! Smells like a FREAK!!!
Please, people, don't believe the hype; just wake up and smell the nerd cheese.

How do I rate this? (O/T) (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by martingale on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 03:25:43 AM EST

Having read your post, I'm having a conundrum about *how* to rate it. Mainly, I don't know what to make of your accusations of plagiarism. Clearly, this is something that neither I, nor the great majority of k5 readers are in a position to check. So here's the difficulty: do I give you a 1 (or even 0) for "baseless accusation", or do I give you a 5 for "important piece of information everyone should read"? I could also give you a 3 for "I don't know, 50/50", or I could abstain from voting completely.

Any ideas anyone?

[ Parent ]
abstain (OT) (none / 0) (#32)
by kubalaa on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 05:33:10 AM EST

This way someone more knowledgeable can step in. Of course, in practice you know someone with less restraint is going to come in with a 5 even if they have no idea whether it's accurate, but you can't make it your job to counterbalance that.

[ Parent ]
Steve is a scoundrel (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by gmol on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 03:30:44 AM EST

I've "worked" with Steve to, and I must concour with you completely; he's full of BS (lies and cheats when you work with him too), I don't know how he got his position at U of T. I felt like I was the only sane person among his blind minions. I feel bad for his grad students as I think they have been genuinely brainwashed by him.

[ Parent ]
Adaptability of the visual system... (none / 0) (#37)
by interrupt on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 02:44:09 PM EST

The glasses. The falling down. It sounds like the most melodramatic bit of all, but if you think about it, its very plausible.

Everyone knows about the experiments where participants wear prizmatic glasses 24-7 to flip their vision upside down. After some time, their perceptual systems adjust and everything looks "normal". When the glasses are subsequently removed, the subjects are disoriented until their vision eventually readjusts.

Now, it is probably fair to assume that the display screens in his glasses do not present images exactly the same size as his eyes would unaided (i.e. they shrink an entire field of vision into a smaller area of his physical field of vision). If he really does wear these glasses 24-7, then it is quite reasonable to think that his visual system would have adjusted to this. Reasoning from the prizm experiment, it is quite possible that he really was disoriented and without proper depth perception.

Aside from that, however, it all seems a bit melodramatic to me...

[ Parent ]

Missing the point (none / 0) (#38)
by Cro Magnon on Fri Mar 15, 2002 at 04:26:21 PM EST

The point isn't whether Steve Mann is an oddbal. He is! What scares me is the attitude of airport security. What if that fancy gadgetry they destroyed was some life-preserving medical equipment?! Certainly, I can understand them not letting him on the plane until they were sure he was harmless, but unless he was physically resisting them, there was no need to destroy his equipment.
Information wants to be beer.
Steve Mann has fallen (may he and his wearable rise again). | 41 comments (34 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!