Ecce homo, behold the Mann.

For 30 years Steve Mann has been iterating the EyeTap computing system through which he lives his daily life. A prosthesis over one of Mann’s eyes, the EyeTap simultaneously sends every image—via a beam-splitter—to the eye’s retina and also to a high resolution video camera. The camera’s image stream passes into the EyeTap’s computer proper and is subject to filtering based on preferences Mann can adjust as needed. For example, in its usual configuration, the EyeTap filters out objects that its software identifies as advertisements, so that Mann simply doesn’t see them in his view.

Along with the processed image stream the EyeTap displays in Mann’s visual field icons (temperature display, etc.) and controls enabling him to interact with what he sees. He can make voice comments, for example, or reference other visual and textual resources (email, blueprints, drawings, pictures) in overlay. And yes, of course, the EyeTap accesses network resources wirelessly.

Mann's latest version of the EyeTap is fixed to his skull with titanium screws; yet a more unusual aspect of Mann’s existence as a cyborg is that he considers himself a Luddite—at least in spirit. Rather than destroying machines that threaten his livlihood, as the 19th century Luddites did, Mann uses his own machine as a way to mediate and control his experience as a human being in an increasingly computer-mediated environment.

Cyborgs and Civil Rights

In the coming era of ubiquitous computing, cyborgs like Mann seem to make inevitable a clash between laws that guarantee protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and those upholding rights of property owners. Simply put, in what Cory Doctorow describes as a coming war on general purpose computing, legal systems will have to adjudicate boundaries between the rights of users and the rights of owners. Balancing efforts to enforce and circumvent those laws poses a daunting challenge for any society with hopes of being workably civil.

Does a cyborg like Mann have the right to disrupt or deny interactions with the many sensors and systems that his EyeTap encounters? If so, which ones, when, and how? Will a cyborg's face permit devices to "recognize" it?

The Bits Go On

Ask yourself if Steve Mann is your BYOD nightmare or potentially your most responsible user. Is a cyborg just another endpoint on the network?

Wherever cyborgs travel, and as the tussle between users and owners of computing resources heats up, we in the IT tribe must keep our eyes on where and how the bits are flowing through our networks, to and from endpoints. Good tools for tracking users, watching bandwidth use, and analyzing traffic promise to become all the more important as we all morph into nodes.