Who’s Afraid Of Google Glass?

A thought provoking article by Jon Evans of TechCrunch here.

" “First you see video. Then you wear video. Then you eat video. Then you be video.” — Pat CadiganPretty Boy Crossover
Sheesh. A whole lot of people who presumably have never actually seen Google Glass in action appear to be really upset. “People who wear Google Glass in public are assholes,” saysGawker’s Adrian Chen. “You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it,” doom-cries Mark Hurst." 

The Muffin Man...

For some time now Alexander Hayes and I have been researching body worn video recording devices within the context of education & training. In 2009 when we started brainstorming about possible PhD projects we thought about engaging with all levels of education across sectors- from the way body worn video recorders would be used with young children at child care centres, all the way up to the vocational training sector, universities and beyond.

I want to write here about the Muffin Man. Who is he? What does he look like? How can the Muffin Man be connected to body worn video recorders like digital glass?

Watch this video first to get a better understanding of where I'm headed in this post. The video is simply titled: "Nathan Playing" and has in excess of 11,000 hits. Not bad for a 5 minute home-style video which records children at play making muffins... 

My first exposure to day care centres (also known as preschools, although there is some distinction) came in the beginning of 2006. I rang several listed centres close to my place of residence and was fortunate enough to gain access to the most reputable for my firstborn. Any parent will tell you that a great day care/preschool makes life for a working mother/father so much easier. Absolutely wonderful when the environment you are part of is one of continual learning for both carers and children alike (not to mention parents). Juggling work life and family life is difficult at the best of times, and every parent wishes for the best start for their child to be in a loving environment.

As fate would have it the carers of my children with so many decades of experience between them not to mention a plethora of accredited qualifications, began to deliver lectures at the University of Wollongong's Early Childhood program in 2009, participated in honours research projects, and sourced great talent when required.

But I do remember on joining the Centre how much the owners looked forward to having a techy mum on hand and how technology agnostic they were... every morning for months I would drop off my child and spend some 10-15 minutes talking about "computers", tutoring lightly, and providing clarity to visions of the owners of how they would incorporate technology for benefit.

I remember the carers going on a course one day and coming back with a book and a CD filled with templates for Microsoft Word/ Powerpoint all inspired about how computers would be used, such were the courses on offer back then. Consultants made mega $ just by showing day care owners how to open and close a Microsoft Word file! I chose otherwise as there was a direct benefit to my children and those of my neighbours.

So the challenge- "integrate computers"... No, the carers were not talking about some funky electronic $7,000 whiteboard although they did later buy a sizeable screen and several laptops... and no they were not talking about showing the kids videos with computers, but about capturing the special moments of the day and allowing the mums and dads some time to reflect on their child's development upon pick up in the afternoon.

I offered my services to the carers of the "little angels" and on many occasions I found myself training the carers of my child... only it did not feel like training, it felt more like an adventure. We started from the very basics- "this is a workspace", "this is how to INSERT>PICTURE", "this is how you add TEXT", and "this is how you save". I was not interested in making it difficult but making it practical and easy and directly satisfying what the carers imagined they could do with computers. When I once demystified the process, they realised how simple it actually was and then ideas began to flow very quickly. They were "off and running" as they say.

The owners/carers had ideas about:

  1. how to capture the spirit and activities of the day through visual evidence;
  2. how to log the child's weekly milestones as identified in the national curriculum.

We started thinking pictures as in photos of the kids at play, we started thinking audio, we started thinking visual recordings... that Christmas I bought the day care a digital recorder- it seemed only natural that we progressed that way, this is despite my active role in Australia's Privacy Foundation and my research into surveillance devices... within weeks, the owners had an even better idea, they bought a digital camera that took good movies and used it every day while the kids played to capture milestones and record them in both a powerpoint presentation that would be shared to all the mums and dads of an afternoon; and pictures of kids they would print and stick into the child's life book with personalised comments. Every Christmas, the carers would wrap the life books up and give them to the kids as their end of year present. They dubbed the life book, "the treasure book" and I've held onto those treasures and often reflect at how fast early childhood goes... way way too fast.

Much later I learnt of Steve Mann's glogging of his own children which are hard to miss on glogger.mobi. But we'll come back to that one a little later...

Today most parents take lots and lots of photos- I've spoken to some mums who purportedly have tens of thousands of photos of their firstborn, less of their second child, and scant of their third, and very few of their fourth. Regardless, most people don't print and document and reflect on photos despite that we take so many of them! I can categorically say, as my children get older, that those treasure books are priceless.

The general practice was great- greet your child for pick-up, spend some time looking through the treasure book and then watch the day's video clips with your child. Five minutes of a summary was a great way to reflect and share on the day that was. It's a special way of connecting with your child after being apart for 8-10 hours.

That's pretty much the story I wanted to share... but there is another side to all this that might cause some readers of this post to be alarmed. Controls are super important when dealing with kids. While there are ethical guides what is absent from the literature are practical regulations, that provide some bounds when it comes to recording young children and disseminating that 'data'.

I write this piece because there is still much to learn about the following:

  1. will parents begin to demand access to this footage?
  2. will owners be tempted to stream this data securely over the web?
  3. should children be filmed at all?
  4. what safeguards might be introduced?
  5. how should data gathered be stored? should it be destroyed daily?
  6. should audio settings be muted on cameras recording?
  7. might records be demanded by authorities for liability, eyewitness reporting?

All of these questions must be asked... and I have to say that the carers and I discussed these issues at length at the outset. The owners were meticulous in their practice:-

  1. no sharing of video files directly with parents via external media (USB or otherwise) no matter what had been captured of exceptional personal value
  2. only positive exchanges were to be retained and shared showing children at play or learning or enhancing skills
  3. all children were to feature on the videos without one child dominating over another.

Almost all owners of day cares/preschools want the best for their Centres, and most steer clear of even a web site or online repositories of data. Most Centres also cannot afford expensive storage services, although almost all Centres now have broadband access given government requirements for fees and rebate calculations based on income testing.

Yet here are some aspects that people for now have put into the "too hard basket" but answers are required and pressing:

  1. Do children act differently when they know they are being recorded?
  2. Is it right to film children at all? Is audio totally off limits? What are the jurisdictional comparisons on this point?
  3. Will drones replace the camera held by the human and what are the implications of this? Positive/negative?
  4. What if children were handed the pair of glasses to wear and film the space around them? Is the child's point of view different to that of the adult point of view?
  5. How should visual evidence of minors be stored, if at all?
  6. What kinds of policies should be instituted when Centres use recording devices in their workplace?
  7. Are their learning outcomes for children when visual recordings are taken OR are the outcomes only enjoyed by parents in sharing in the joint development of their child?
  8. Should children have access to their "lifelogs" beyond their treasure books when they grow up? Will it help in resolving certain behaviours, and emphasising others in a positive way?

Those are just some of my reflections... so much work is being done in the surveillance field and children. See for example the exceptional research work of Tonya Rooney of Australia. A PhD worth reading titled: "Growing up in Surveillance Society: The Changing Spaces of Childhood Experience".

I do hope that people will take this post and consider it deeply- especially those in the Early Childhood/Tech space. So much to ponder! Welcome aboard.

May I use this opportunity also to identify the work of Dr Holly Tootell, my former PhD student and colleague at the University of Wollongong, who is now researching heavily in the intersection of early childhood and technology.

DIY Drones

The place to be if you are talking DIY Drones is here.

Just one of many "success" stories- from tinkering/hobbyist to commercial organisation. Read the post below by Robero Navoni from "diy drones" posted on 17 Feb 2013.

"After more than five years of experimentation the comunity of VirtualRobotix decided to grow up and turn into a cooperative company.
In the coming months in Italy, you can use our drones not only for scientific or fun, but also for commercial purposes.
Within VirtualRobotix we have assembled the best Italian companies with the ability to develop drones, very appasionate and expertise, today I present to you, the first professional product: a frame  in full carbon developed by the group that designs SpecialDrones.
In these video is possible to see different configuration , and the advanced application where our frame can do great performances"

Drones R Us

As I was growing up, my older brother who was an avid follower of all things "U.S. Air Force", delighted in making me and my siblings watch reruns of jet fighters, bombers and the like on videos he would tape from the world news and documentaries. By the age of 10, I knew what a B1 Bomber was, certainly what a B52 looked like, even what artillery each carried. I would often marvel in my own ability to recollect each just by watching them in flight. But on hindsight I think it had to do with the fact that I grew up within walking distance of Sydney Airport and could not only hear aeroplanes during the day but I could see their underbelly as they came into land at Kingsford Smith.

But there was one plane on the documentaries which always stood out. It wasn't fast, and it wasn't flashy, and it didn't have a pointy nose. It wasn't brutal looking and it could never be described as awesome... The AWACS was always easy to remember. It was white with a black dish-like feature near the tail end. I would think, if AWACS was a planet it would be Saturn!

Courtesy: NATO Web Site

Courtesy: NATO Web Site

The AWACS stands for Airborne Warning & Control System aircraft and technically is Boeing's E-3A 'Sentry'. NATO uses 17 AWACS from its NATO Air Base in Geilenkirchen, Germany. According to NATO, the AWACS provides:

"immediately available airborne command and control (C2), air and maritime surveillance and battlespace management capability."

The AWACS is often dubbed "Eye in the Sky" and in 2012 it allegedly played an important role in the security of the Euro 2012 Football Tournament. I find it so interesting, that such an old reconnaissance airplane is still doing what it did decades ago, despite that it has undergone numerous upgrades in technology.

This gets me to the point of my blogpost...

What have we become?

Ok. Drones are usually uninhabited... they are getting smaller and smaller by the day... anyone can build one for a couple of hundred dollars (much less if you know where you go to buy the parts)...

So now in an analogous way we can do what the AWACS does... we can buy a device that logs everything we see... "click --- click --- click" every three seconds... We don't even have to press the camera trigger, it just does it automatically for us and sends the data back to some kind of command and control centre, called our "lifelog storage device in the cloud."

In some ways these cameras we might wear 24x7 (and might one day even bear) are "uninhabited" or "unmanned" because there is no conscious decision to make about what photograph/video to take, beyond the decision to wear the device to begin with and press the "on" button.

Thus what have we become? Drones ourselves? Have we become a type of "mule" like those carriers in the smuggling drug trade? "Click --- click --- click." Who are we clicking for? Or video recording for? Is it really ourselves? Our children? History?

We are close to having every street and every dwelling captured... but are we really on a quest to discover every "nook and cranny"? And then what? Once we've got the whole world mapped out, and every human located on a map (even when their mobile), and got a precise view of what people's homes look like from the "inside" not just the "outside", what next? 

"Living under drones" is one thing, but ponder a world filled with human drones. And here, I'm not just referring to your common 'garden variety lifeloggers' but those who will be paid for drone-like behaviour.