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Steve Mann Assaulted at French McDonald’s in world’s first “Cybernetic Hate Crime”
Gabriel Rothblatt   Jul 20, 2012   Ethical Technology  

France must apologize; McDonald’s should be boycotted… “vloggers” are valuable, they exposed the BART execution…
“Sousveillance” provided by emerging technology enables citizens to monitor the government and other repressive forces…

There is nothing new about xenophobia. It in many ways is understandable from the perspective of evolutionary biology. But we are far removed from tribes of monkeys afraid to approach or aggressively attacking anything we don’t understand. Or are we?

Professor Steve Mann[1] of the University of Toronto, “the father of wearable computing,”[2] was assaulted in front of his family, inside a French McDonalds, because of his digital eyepiece. Three McDonald’s employees confronted Professor Mann while he ate with his family. He provided the group with his paperwork detailing the devices integration with his body, which they destroyed and then physically tried to remove the device from his head.

Professor Mann has been wearing digital recording devices since the 70’s and records every moment of his life. The current device Professor Mann is using is fixed to his skull; it must be removed with special tools. It is also important to note that his device is not too different in appearance from blue tooth devices and functions much like Google-glasses will. The event is being called the first cybernetic hate-crime. [3]

This is not Professor Mann’s first run-in with controversy; he has been thrown out of government buildings and even a Wal-Mart for wearing his digital eyepiece. With as many cameras as they have watching customers in Wal-Mart, you’d think they would be more understanding of someone wanting to record the actions of others.

As soon as I saw the headline my mind raced to a short film I came across recently entitled “No Robots.”[4] Very reminiscent of the Nazi round up of Jews, it is a wonderful depiction of how easy it is to get swept along in the storm of fear and hatred. We should all be familiar with this quote:

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.” - Pastor Martin Niemöller[5]

Professor Mann has been “vlogging” for longer than I have been alive. Video he has captured has solved crimes and made the streets safer. I had the pleasure of meeting him once [6], and his family, and know him to be a man of peace. He discussed with me the intentions of what he does and the benefits it has for society.

In the presentation he gave the day I met him, he spoke of sousveillance[7]: the power of the people to watch the government. I found his insights inspiring and have advocated that position ever since. During the last round of Presidential elections we saw many instances of sousveillance which brought to light numerous scandals and crimes committed by the police. In response many police jurisdictions have tried to make it a crime to record a police officer.

Perhaps the most atrocious crime caught by sousveillance in the United States in recent history is the execution of a young father on a San Francisco BART platform on New Years Eve 2009. [8] Dozens of people, live, and now millions thanks to sousveillance, witnessed the unarmed and handcuffed man face down on the platform be shot in the back. The officers, not visibly concerned, make no immediate attempt to keep the man alive or call for an ambulance. Without the power of sousveillance, we likely would have missed the 6th page mention of the murder Oscar Grant, and even less than the little done about it would ever have occurred.

Where is the line in the sand? How do we determine how people interpret the world? I often offend people by telling them their pacemaker and/or hearing aid makes them quantifiably cyborg. The heart is the most important organ in the body the only one you cannot live with half of. If your heart is dependent on artificial machinery to operate, I don’t know a better line in the sand to say when or not someone has crossed the divide into cyborg. Professor Mann enlightened me that his eyepiece is no different than a hearing aid. It assists his vision as glasses do he even has (had, destroyed by the McDonald’s employees) a doctor recommendation for its use. He has lived with it for so long it is effectively an extension of his body and he is imbalanced without it.

This assault is not just upon Professor Mann, not just upon the sousveillance movement, it is upon all of us, our rights, and upon our future. This kind of incident is a precise justification for why Professor Mann does what he does and to let this get swept aside or spun, like the woman scalded out of her livelihood by McDonald’s coffee, is an affirmation the saying:

“Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.” -  Benjamin Franklin [9]

I cannot understate how important this issue is to all free people. Our human rights to determine our own identity, to express ourselves freely and even to own our thoughts and experiences are at stake here. McDonalds and France must both come forth and apologize; yet the shot has already been fired. To illustrate how important Professor Mann’s life work is to all of us I implore everyone to watch the articulate warning made by Tom Scott in his short film “Welcome to Life.”[10] While referencing reanimation, these trends are real and existent. How would you like to have to pay a royalty for humming a tune you heard on the radio?

There are still details to emerge and lawyers to be briefed but there is no justification for a paying customer, eating in a restaurant with his family, to be accosted for any reason, especially by a gang of employees.  I once, not long ago, was a franchise restaurant manager and unless Professor Mann attempted to enter their kitchen possibly exposing health safety standard failures or corporate secrets they had no right to even question him, in fact it was their job to ensure his comfort, safety and satisfaction!

This case has gotten me very irritated and I hope it does the same for everyone else. I personally stopped patronizing McDonalds long ago; any inclination I ever had to return is now very dead. I am urging everyone to make a sacrifice in their convenience and enjoyment and not purchase any product or service from a McDonald’s affiliate or French company until both come forward and publically apologize for their actions and inactions to protect the rights and comfort of Professor Mann Mann and his family.

Lets not let history say that:

“first they came for the AI,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an AI.
Then they came for the cyborgs,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a cyborg.
Then they came for the transhumanists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a transhumanist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”




Gabriel Rothblatt is an Ambassador for the Seasteading Institute, a member of the Board of Directors for Terasem Movement Incorporated and the Lifeboat Foundations Futurist Board of Advisors. He is a former US Congressional Candidate in FL-8, the Space Coast of Florida.

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