My grandfather taught me to weld when I was 4 years old, so early in my life I became aware of what the world looked like when “Seen Through the Glass, Darkly”. Darkglass (the welder’s glass) diminishes reality. Diminished Reality is the logical opposite of Augmented Reality.
A childhood vision of mine was to use television cameras and miniature displays, with contrast adjustment, to be able to
see-in-the-dark while still being able to clearly see the electric welding arc without hurting my eyes.
In my childhood, back in the 1970s, as an amateur scientist and amateur inventor, my experiments in contrast reduction became experiments in a general-purpose wearable computer system, using hybrid analog and digital computing equipment. I also began to add overlays of text and graphics on top of my visual reality.
I started to think of the “Digital Eye Glass” as something to be used to help people see better in everyday life, not just while welding. Around that time others started putting electronics in glass, e.g. 3M’s Speedglas/Speedglass was introduced in 1981.
Wearing “Glass” in everyday life back then scared people — first because it looked strange — which later was to become something people thought was “cool” rather than strange — but ultimately because of the sensors/camera(s).
As I refined the Glass into a sleek and slender eyeglass form-factor in the 1980s and early 1990s the appearance became acceptable to the general public, but I began to find myself harassed by police and security guards afraid that the “Glass Eye” might be recording them.
How ironic it was that the very people who were installing and monitoring surveillance cameras — watching us — were the people most afraid of being watched!
Glass (Digital Eye Glass, GlassEye, Mannglas, Speedglas, etc.) became a metaphor for a fragile and transparent society. We can learn a lot from a society by how readily its police accept Glass — i.e. how readily the society accepts reciprocal transparency and the mutual vulnerability we share when the “Glass Eye” becomes as commonplace as the surveillance cameras of the authorities.
This year’s ISTAS theme, therefore, is not Surveillance (Watching from above, in a hierarchy, e.g. police watching suspects) but, rather, Veillance (watching in a politically neutral sense).
Please join us as we explore this half-silvered world of two-way transparency.