September #WWTO is watching you

wwto

At another packed house for September’s We Are Wearables Toronto at the MaRS Discovery District, event founder and BetaKit Senior Editor Tom Emrich brought together wearable enthusiasts for Capturing The Future, a night focused on the evolution of cameras and, in a smartphone-driven world, the dynamic role they play in our daily lives.

An event about the future of cameras wouldn’t be complete with Steve Mann, who is considered the father of wearable computing and the first person to lifelog using a wearable camera. He talked about the hypocrisy of surveillance, which doesn’t allow the people being watched to record the ones who are watching them, and how this can result in a narrative of “half-truths.”

“Who’s watching the watchers, and who senses the sensors?” Mann asked. “I think there’s an important question of integrity. We have to take the politics away from surveillance and strip it down to veillance.”

Mann used the opportunity to launch a declaration of veillance through his Veillance Foundation, a movement that supports the right of all people to veillance their surroundings.

From the side of those who work in the business of surveillance, Michael Barsky, staff sergeant at Toronto Police Services, discussed the one-year body camera pilot program for 100 police officers throughout the city. In the advent of social movements like #Blacklivesmatter, which has used social media and recordings of violent police encounters to bring attention to police abuses, and the Toronto PACER report which examined how police can engage bias-free, Barsky explained that the idea is to capture interactions with the public more accurately and keep officers accountable. Police officers spent two months in training before the first camera was put on the streets in May.

“We all have cameras and we know how to use it, but body camera technology is more than that. It’s about the legalities of it,” Barsky said. “It’s about when they can turn it off and on. Who makes that decision, and how do we adapt around those?”

“Politicians aren’t the ones using these cameras. They’re the ones saying ‘I don’t like that people are watching me back’.”
– Vance Lockton, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Vance Lockton, senior analyst at the Office For The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, was also put in the hot seat for a Q&A with an audience that wondered how its right to privacy comes into play when someone is recording them with a wearable. While Canada is a country where one party can record a conversation so long as they offer consent themselves to being recorded in it, a person can reach criminal territory if they record a conversation that they are not part of, and if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. “The answer is that legally, yes you are allowed to wear them, with a couple of asterisks,” Lockton said.

But Lockton also pointed out a possible less-than-ideal future for wearable enthusiasts. As federal governments struggle to tackle issues like cyberbullying, they may create overbroad laws to combat them. One notable case is that of 15-year-old Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, who killed herself after pictures of her rape taken with a smartphone were circulated throughout her school. In turn, the laws that the province has introduced to combat these problems are being challenged as overbroad. “Politicians aren’t the ones using these cameras. They’re the ones saying ‘I don’t like that people are watching me back’,” Lockton said. “But this is the reality. The more abuses we see of this and the negative media stories, the more likely we are to have overbroad and dangerous laws.”

Pioneering wearable camera companies, also presented how their products would change their respective industries. Giovanni Tomaselli, founder of the iON USA, talked about how his SnapCam, a $100 waterproof, WiFi-enabled wearable camera would make it easier for people to capture and share their precious moments thanks to its accessible price. Tom Fowler, CMO of Recon Instruments, talked about the importance of their Recon Jet wearable glasses that lets athletes capture images instantly with a click on the glasses. Shea Kewin, co-founder and CEO of UHWK (formerly HWKI), who works in the increasingly-popular hockey wearables space with his flexible helmet camera, talked about the potential for such a product in the market among hockey enthusiasts.

Robert Devenyi, ophthalmologist-in-chief and director of retinal services at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Center, part of the University Health Network, was also on hand to talk about his groundbreaking surgery of Canada’s first bionic eye implant, which lets patients with visual impairment perceive light, though it doesn’t allow them to regain their full vision. “This is where the future is. All this machine learning and artificial intelligence, you’ve got to accept that it’s here already,” Devenyi said.

The night finished off with a panel of experts from wide-ranging industries and included most of the night’s speakers, but also added Casie Stewart, one of Canada’s top bloggers, and Oskar Kalmaru, co-founder and CMO of Narrative, the smallest wearable camera in the world and an automatic lifelogging camera. Zayn Jaffer, director of merchandising emerging businesses at Best Buy Canada, also joined.

To start, Emrich asked about the value of lifelogging and whether capturing every single moment of people’s lives was truly necessary.

“Everything that I put out is very curated, and I put filters on things and am very happy in general, but there are days where I’m not happy and I’m not smiling but I don’t want to share that with the world,” Stewart said. “It can take a lot out of you when you’re sharing yourself with the world, and it can get pretty intense.”

Jaffer chimed in with his take on wearables for mainstream consumer technology, saying that it could be a way to intersect both the desire to capture great moments on our phones, yet live fully in the important moments of our lives. “We’re all about making technology fun, and I think we’re going to market it that way. It’s about capturing moments, which is something that we also want to market, and share those moments,” Jaffer said.

“I keep going back to those living in the moment examples. Idk how many times I’ve been to a concert where people are just sitting there the entire time watching it through their phone when they can watch it through their eyes. Why not have something on you that can actually capture that moment?”

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.