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Wearable Linux: Notes from the Field - page 6

Business Now Embracing Wearable Linux

  • May 22, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

If Microsoft came promising more consumer goodies by way of MP3 players and a "rich portable experience," Professor Mann came promising a total change in the way we experience technology.

All this computing, he said, would happen without the user having to experience mouse or keyboard, program or application: he's striving for nothing more than the smooth integration of the "real world" and the enhancements to that world technology can offer.

Through pattern recognition, he suggested, the computer-mediated display a wearable computing user sees could be used to filter billboards or ads on the fly, creating a sort of "real world" Junkbuster.

More immediately, using compressed video, a living diary of rapid-fire images could be collected over a lifetime, available for instant recall. Covertly, the same approach could be used to document human rights abuses, and to turn the tables on institutions that ban observations of their own activities, even as they train more and more cameras on those that pass through their doors.

For the visually impaired, Mann mentioned work done in combining radar and tactile feedback to provide a sense of one's environment. For motorists, he mentioned the use of on-the-fly highlighting of cars approaching at an unsafe speed. At that point, he had my attention completely.

Even if wearable computing could spare me ever having to lay eyes on another "Got Milk?" ad... even if it could empower me to challenge the arbitrary power structures of the analog world, and even if, as one brief clip he showed indicated, it could be used to tell you you're looking at Alan Alda if he walked up to you on the street through facial feature matching, I was much more interested in something that might make me less likely to get creamed on 495. I spent a minute lost in the fantasy of having a real tickle between my shoulder blades to tell me I was about to be taken out by an angry Mercedes driver instead of whatever sense it was that pulled through for me in its erratic and intangible way earlier that day.

The word "Linux" popped up, though, so I snapped back to the conference room.

Like another Canadian, Red Hat's Bob Young, Mann has a favorite saying about his choice of operating systems:

"It's hard to work on an auto when the hood's welded shut."

Mann applauded the recent French initiatives to mandate Open Source software for government institutions, and said he hoped a governmental ban against "viral" and closed-source operating systems would force industry to follow suit.

There was a lot to take in, and Professor Mann's talk ran over at the urging of the audience. Mann has some tall orders to fill, between redefining the lines between "media" and "reality," toppling institutional oppression, crushing proprietary software, and making sure we all recognize Alan Alda when we bump into him on the street. Some in the audience were clearly entertained and intrigued, and a few looked a little dazed.

Outside the conference room, though, grad student James Fung was able to sum it all up:

"Professor Mann says computers are the first tools that can be used for purposes the manufacturer never intended, and that's what we're doing."

And where's Linux fit in?

"The penguin's gonna empower the people."

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