First Monday

Cyborg logs and collective stream of (de)consciousness capture for producing attribution-free informatic content such as cyborglogs by Steve Mann

Cyborg logs and collective stream of (de)consciousness capture for producing attribution-free
informatic content such as cyborglogs by Steve Mann

Various forms of apparatus for a new kind of wiki or blog (weblog) are described. In particular, ways of bringing together a collective deconsciousness are presented. The systems works with CyborgLogs (cyborglogs or "glogs") from a community of portable computer users, or it can also be used with a mixture of portable (handheld or wearable), mobile (automotive, boat, van, or utility vehicle), or base-station (home, office, public space, etc.) systems. The system enables a community to exist without conscious thought or effort on the part of the individual participants. Because of the participants' ability to constantly experience the world through the apparatus, the apparatus can behave as a true extension of the participants' mind and body, giving rise to a new kind of collective experience. In other embodiments, the system may operate without the need for participants to bear any kind of technological prosthesis.


Rationale for attribution-free online communities
Goals of attribution-free content generation
Summary of attribution-free communities
Detailed description of some specific implementations of attribution-free computing





This article pertains to a collaborative communications system that may have components installed on or within a user's body (portable), on or in a vehicle (mobile), or on or in an environment (building or fixed structure) where users may exist.

Digital wireless communities have existed since the days of amateur packet radio (ham radio), in three well-defined categories:

  1. Fixed: (also known as "base stations"): fixed devices on or in buildings, homes, offices, or other "fixtures" such as a ham shack, post, outpost, or attached to a tree, or other fixture;
  2. Mobile: Vehicular or ship-based systems, wireless systems in trucks, vans, cars, boats, or motorcycles. A wireless station on a bicycle such as N4RVE's "behemoth" would also be categorized as "Mobile". People who use mobiles are often called mobileers;
  3. Portable: Handheld or wearable systems. Systems borne by (e.g. worn or carried upon) the human body. An implantable system such as a wirless communicator injected beneath the skin would also fall under the "Portable" category. Most of N1NLF's systems (N1NLF is the author of this article, who also uses the Canadian Callsign VA3NLF) fall under this "Portable" category.

Chronologically, these happened in the order presented: first there were the fixed ham shacks, then the mobileers, and finally the cyborgs (portables, wearables, implantables, etc.).

These three categories are well established, and well known in the ham radio (amateur radio) digital wireless communities. Of particular interest are the latter two categories (Mobile and Portable) because they have been made possible by miniaturization of components.

Category 2 (Mobile) is described in KA6WKE's Web site which describes how to deal with the less than optimal antennas and grounding systems of mobile units (within a 1992 Ford Escort station wagon, being a small car, that presents many such challenges).

Good examples of mobile wireless digital radios include the HF Mobile Rig — FT-100 and various two meter mobile rigs.

Portable (worn or carried) rigs are described in N1NLF's sites, and

Portable rigs are often known as "handie talkies", and, together with a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) provide portable wireless data connectivity. More recently, various other devices provide similar connectivity, without the need for a radio license. Such systems include cellular phones, pagers, and digital cameras with wireless communications. These systems fall under category 3 (Portable), thanks to modern miniaturization. With a 12-volt cigarrette lighter adapter, they may be operated in Category 2 (Mobile), and often come with a wall plug adapter for operation in Categoery 1 (Fixed). Most digital cameras have a standard "1/4, 20" threaded hole, to accept a tripod mount, so that they can operate in Category 1 (Fixed) mode.

The recent explosion of license-free low power radio systems makes possible a new form of community across all three categories. Fixed or Mobile ports on homes, and cars, can also serve as gateways for a community of portable logging systems. With no central authority able to "pull the plug", such systems may give us that which the Internet promised but failed to deliver: truly decentralized communities.

With small portable devices that function as if they were a true extension of our minds and bodies, we all become cyborgs.

Portable devices make possible Cyborg Logs, such as illustrated in:



Rationale for attribution-free online communities

Corporations and other large organizations often enjoy a desponsibility that arises from diffusion of responsibility, while at the same time being afforded benefits of personhood. The corporate body often enjoys the legal protections that a human body has, but it does not have the same degree of vulnerability that the individual human body does.

Thus there is an imbalance that has arisen, and continues to arise, in which individuals are disadvantaged when interacting with large organizations. The general spirit of this assymetry is perhaps best captured in Franz Kafka's The Trial, but will also likely be familiar, (even if to a lesser extent) to anyone who has attempted to deal with a large bureaucratic organization.

Although online communities may arise in forms such as WebLogs (weblogs, or "blogs"), wikis, or similar constructs, a drawback of such constructs is the vulnerability of such individuals, compared to large organizations. Simple "nuissance" lawsuits are often used to shut down whistleblowers, or curtail free speech and activism.

Indeed, a drawback of the mainframe computer era, and it's more modern counterpart ("middleware") was (and, for middleware, still is) the lack of individual autonomy and individual privacy afforded by large monolithic computer systems or networks. Although individuals having distinct user accounts might be protected from being observed by others, there was no simple means whereby an individual could prevent his or her materials or computations from being spied upon by a system administrator or the like. As a result, the mainframe computer era provided an environment much like Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon (a prison, workplace, school, or the like, in which a central guard could watch over everyone but people were prevented from truly interacting with one another).

In the mainframe era, individual users were somewhat isolated from each other, either by deliberate obfuscation of standards, or often simply by way of the need for so-called "security" (e.g. creating a fear among users that other users might observe their actions), notwithstanding the fact that said "security" did little or nothing to prevent higher authorities from observing actions of any individual user.

However, with the proliferation of the Personal Computer (PC), this situation fortunately improved in two ways:

Indeed, with the advent of the World Wide Web, users could have their cake and share it too. Not only could users hide files from any central authority but they could also share these files. With the widespread use of encryption, users could finally break out of the prison-like world in which their actions were observed by central guards who also discouraged communication among inmates.

This situation is roughly as life should be, in the sense that in real life, any two people can walk out into the middle of a large corn field, or the like, and have a private conversation, without any officials eavesdropping on the conversation. Similarly, just as people have sent letters in sealed envelopes, so that Post Office employees can't read them, now people can send e-mail by encryption so that Telephone Company employees can't read them.

The telephone network is an example of a system that's traditionally been, and continues to be, centralized and Panopticon-like. Telephones are terminals, and the Phone Company provides all the intelligence. Whether called "mainframe computing" or associated with fresh-sounding euphemisms like "middleware", such networks do not give rise to true autonomous community.

In this regard, however, the situation has actually been getting worse, in the sense that answering machines are being replaced with centralized services like voice mail, where the end-user has no actual archive that could not, in principle, be altered or falsified by the Phone Company.

Unfortunately, some new concepts like Thin Clients, and Software Services are bringing us back to the bad old days of mainframe computers when a private message sent from one person to another could easily be intercepted by a corrupt official.

Such concepts as Back Orifice, and central administration of Personal Computers, are moving us back to these dark ages of computing.

One hopeful development is GNU Linux, a free operating system that no longer forces a distinction between "user" and "developer" upon the end user. There's hope, here, with Richard Stallman's contribution of the concept of the GNU General Public License, for widespread computer literacy.

Other hopeful developments include the Wikipedia and Nupedia (the world's largest international, peer-reviewed encyclopedia). Both of these are also free.

But they are still written, in their individual parts, by individuals. Thus attribution (and thus blame) can still be assigned to individuals for various parts of the publication.

A possible solution to this problem evolves from the field of Humanistic Intelligence (HI). The theory of HI is described, for example, in "Humanistic Computing" by Mann (Proceedings of the IEEE, volume 86, number 11 (November 1998).



Goals of attribution-free content generation

An important goal of attribution-free computing is to provide a system where individuals can collectively communicate, and collectively author work, in such a way that the work cannot be attributed to a particular member of the collective, even through they are using devices that may contain viruses, trojan horses, or the like.

A collective deconsciousness allows for a state of thought, that is neither conscious, unconscious, nor subconscious, but, rather, a shared stream of thought, that evolves into something greater than its constituent parts. But the interface to a collective deconsciousness is not easy to use.

However, ease of use is not necessarily the most important element.

In the same way that television is easier to use than books, there has been a disturbing trend toward not learning how computers work (e.g. how to "read" source code), and to instead adopt the mind-numbing notion of sourceless software coming from a monopoly or cartel. Teaching children how to use tools like PowerPoint and FrontPage instead of GNU Linux is kind of like teaching them how to use a television instead of how to read.

Using the stream-of-deconsciousness interface is not easy, just as reading is not easy for a person who has not yet learned to read. However, like reading, which allows a person to obtain material that is free of advertising and much more varied than television, using the system allows individuals to communicate with other processes and with each other, in a much richer and more meaningful way than traditional e-mail or telephony.

In order to make the system more enjoyable for younger users, or users who might otherwise have a short attention span, some embodiments present a user-interface that is a game, or is game-like, such as an interactive virtual or computer-mediated world.

A goal of attribution-free communities is to provide a true synergy between multiple users and the system that brings them together, in which the individuals are inextricably intertwined in a process in which actions cannot be attributed to a particular user. The system functions much like a collective brain, whether the interfaces to it are implanted within the brains (or bodies) of participants, or merely worn on their bodies, such as in a waist pouch or pocket, or even merely present in the environment.

The interface to the attribution-free community doesn't necessarily need to be implantable. It can be a networked WearComp (see WearComp definition in "Humanistic Computing"), a small carryable device, or an environmental computer, or interactional space, for example, in a public place, or a combination of all of these.

It can also be a chain of systems including some of the above, in turn networked to other computers, possibly through a mobile gateway located in a vehicle and, in turn, to gateways located on the rooftops of various buildings througout the geographical region of the user.

Some or all of the computers in this long chain of computers may be adversely affected by infiltrators, without compromise to the users' ability to create attribution-free work.

An important feature of the systems for implementing attribution-free communities is that of collective digital events, such that even at the finest level of granularity, each atomic event remains free of attribution to a specific individual.

It is well-known that excessive trust can give rise to corruption, as, for example, when a government or corporation makes a promise that it is implementing identification cards for the benefit of the recipients, but in fact uses these to stalk or track the whereabouts of the recipients, and to track their individual behaviour.

Thus another important feature of the system is the construction of collective intelligence encryption, and forms of collective behaviour made of atoms that are impossible to attribute to any individual member.

The production of these collective atoms may be facilitated either by the computer systems acting as an interface to each participant, or by a metaphor generator running in any of the computers in the network.



Summary of attribution-free communities

The proposed system facilitates a new form of symbiosis between multiple users, and allows the users, in some sense, to become a collective, at the atomic level.

An example of an atomic interaction is a mouse click. Of course some atoms are more significant, in their humanistic significance, than others. An atom that carries significant humanistic meaning is a mouse click on the word "Agree".

An example of such an atom is the "Agree" to very unreasonable "Terms and Conditions" that we so commonly see. As individuals, we have very little say in such matters, and very little, if any, negotiating power over such "Terms and Conditions" that often contain questionable or unethical elements.

If a number of persons are present in the same space, they can apply a Ouija board metaphor to the atomic mouse click, involved in the "Agree". Using a planchette metaphor for the mouse, the participants sit around a table, and each place one hand on the mouse, and each place one finger on the mouse button, and then create an atom (such as a mouse click on "Agree") that is not attributable to any one of the participants.

However, it is also desirable that a collective atom can be created by participants who are not all physically located in the same space. This is done using the similar "ouijagree" ouijaboard metaphor, but using remote network connections. For example, a program may be run over a distributed Xwindows server, so that people at various locations can affect Xevents, mutually. An atom may consist of various Xevents from various individuals, acting in a feedback loop of the shared space. The constituent Xevents of, for example, slight mouse movements of each of the participants, are irrelevant to the overall atom, e.g. these subatomic contributants have no particular humanistic significance, but for the fact that they contribute toward the evolution of the atom, in a way that is only meaningful in the context of the feedback loop in which the participants are immersed.

A better communications system takes the form of a game. For example, various people meeting in cyberspace, playing a game of Ouija, can communicate through the movement of the their cursor pointing devices, acting on a shared cursor.

In some implementations of an attribution-free community, a metaphor generator is used to map a collaboration atom onto the space of a move in a game, so that players can become part of a feedback loop in a way that's natural or familiar. Other metaphors, such as those that induce a user to be in a large virtual building with various rooms, and various virtual objects in those rooms, can be used. Atoms can appear as either moves in a game (like Dungeons and Dragons), or as moves in less game-like metaphors.

The atoms can be generated by body movement, in an interactive game space, or an interactive performance space, such as an interactive art installation, attended by multiple people.



Detailed description of some specific implementations of attribution-free computing

This figure



shows a system for producing attribution-free informatic content by way of a collective stream-of-deconsciousness capture. Users 1 and 2 interact with multiple input devices ID1 and ID2. Input devices may consist of computer mice, keyboards, pixels of one or more video cameras, wearable computer devices, or other sensors with which users can interact. An Attribution Obfuscator combines the inputs from the input devices, to give rise to a combined signal from multiple users. The combined signal is passed into an Event Splitter. The splitter duplicates the incoming event, so that it can drive two output devices. In this way, a closed-loop feedback path forms around the multiple users. Additionally, the attribution obfuscator may supply an Atom Generator with combined data, from the users, so that an atom can be generated. Atoms are stored in a database (denoted DB), that also feeds out through the Event Splitter. In this way, users can contribute to a wiki-like environment, Ouiki, consisting of obfuscator, splitter, atom generator, and database. The collective atomic contributions of the users cannot be assigned any attribution, no matter how closely the entire system is kept under surveillance. Indeed, even if the entire state of the system could be known, it could never be determined to what extent any individual's intention could be ascribed to the construction of any atom, because to do so would require reading the minds of the participants. Thus even if the entire Ouiki is infiltrated by perpetrators or consiprators of surveillance, along with input devices and output devices, attribution cannot be determined.

This figure



shows a simple specific example of attribution obfuscation, each user may have an input device (one of the mice, depicted in the figure) such as a mouse or other pointing device that contributes Xevents to a shared cursor position denoted (x1,y1) on a first screen, and (x2,y2) on a second screen, the screens being the output devices (VGA or other television screens depicted in the figure). The positions of the cursors in steady-state, are approximately the same, but may transiently differ. Each user can affect the position of the cursor, by moving their respective pointer (input device). The outputs of the pointers are added together by a combiner, or by an attribution obfuscator operating in the Ouiki. Input devices and output devices are connected to the Ouiki by various means, such as wire or wireless communications, or a mixture of these means. Also, the Ouiki can run across multiple computers, or it can be central, on the Internet, or run distributed across the participants' computers.

In this very simple embodiment, users or participants look at the same screen content, including the cursor, and each can move their pointing devices. If they both move their pointers in the same direction, the cursor moves twice as fast as if only one would move their pointer. If they move their pointers in opposite directions but at the same speed, the cursor stands still.

Thus the outputs from the input devices are added vectorially, to the cursor postion both participants see on display devices, when considered in steady-state. In some sense, therefore, the device allows the cursor to be a planchette in a virtual Ouija board effect.

Of course, due to Internet delays, or the like, the transient state of the system may involve some spurious movement of the shared cursor.

If there is sufficient hesitation, hunting around, and each user moves toward both Agree and Do Not Agree, there can be a simple but primitive form of attributional obfuscation in the construction of the Agree atom, or the Do Not Agree atom, whichever results from the interaction.

This figure



shows a possible screen display showing more items available on the menu (rather than just the Agree and Do Not Agree), so that authorship obfuscation is possible. A collaborative word or sentence could be spelled out, or perhaps a line of source code in the Ouijava programming language. Thus a group of people at various different locations around the world can create atoms, each of which represents a letter of the alphabet, or a number. Strung together, these atoms can produce an article, essay, letter of protest, or disclosure of corruption. The participants need not be fixed, thus there being the possibility of ongoing activity in the Ouiki, so that as various different members join in the activities, a continuous sream-of-deconsciousness emerges. Much of it may be nonsense, but it will also lead to some sub communities forming meaningful sequences of atoms.

This figure



shows an embodiment in which atoms can be formed by movement of people on a dance floor in a virtual environment or the Ouiki. A camera and projector unit, such as CAM. PROJ. projects images of various locations, such as various contries, or a world map, or the like, on the dance floor. As dancers move from a source country (e.g. a place where the apparatus is not installed), files from that source country are searched over the Internet. Any files from that country that are music files, are associated with the dancer at the source country. When the dancer at the source country moves toward a destination country, the files are copied, over the internet, to the destination country, and played out through the speaker system, possibly as short pastiche (sampling, remixed, etc., automatically by the computer processor). As dancers move around the "world" representation, various files are moved around on the Internet. Cameras in the system such as a camera in the CAM. PROJ. track movement of persons such as dancers, and when movement from one country that the dance floor is not in, to a country that the dance floor is in, occurs, files are randomly copied from that country to the dance floor site. Thus movement of people in the space causes file sharing to happen. Other forms of movement tracking can give rise to collective file sharing. The loudspeaker system consists of displays or output devices, such that each dancer can hear the collective output resulting from body movements of all the dancers. The music is thus generated by collective body movement, and the dancers are caught up in this collective generation of the music that they hear while they generate it. Attribution obfuscation can arise because the camera system can respond to general trends of the movement of members of the crowd, and thus an intelligent collective crowd behaviour can emerge, as grist for massive file sharing of music files.

Additionally, since the participants function in symbiosis with the technology without conscious thought or effort, they function as cyborgs, and a cyborg log, GLOG, may be generated. Thus the participants produce attribution-free derivative works (pastiche), from their body movements.

The system of the above figure represents a form of symmetric peacefare, in which various participants along all axes of good, throughout the world, can participate. (We should not label anything as being guilty of evil until proven so, e.g. "innocent until proven guilty"). Moreover, many different dance clubs around the world can share music files, by way of the collective body movements of persons from a variety of different cultures. By installing the apparatus in various dance clubs, and networking the clubs together, so that participants can see projections of each other, across cyberspace, they can, in effect, pass files back and forth in a world that has no borders or axes. Such a system, therefore, might give rise to an origin of good, for the axes of good.

This figure



shows a form of assymetric peacefare, in which a device worn by a first person, consisting of a television or similar form of video display system, acts like a mirror because it displays an image from the mirror camera, so that another person sees his or her reflection in the mirror. The mirror effect is caused by a processor that first left-right reverses video output from the mirror camera and then displays it on the display system, as live continuously updated video. This, when worn like a name badge, or the like, will get the attention of the other person. A sequence of images, indicated as FRAME 0 to FRAME 5 begins with image, Mirror, FRAME 0, may then change to a stored image of the portion of the wearer's shirt that is covered by the screen (denoted Window, FRAME 1). This is done by having a stored image in a processor that switches out video from MIRROR CAMERA and displays instead a still image from an archive, as Window, FRAME 1. Preferably this picture of the wearer's shirt portion that is under the TV is also adjusted in brightness to match that of the rest of the shirt. Thus MIRROR CAMERA can still function as a brightness and colour sensor, to measure ambient light, and allow a processor driving the system to play back an image of the shirt as it would appear, e.g. if the wearer is under a traffic light, and it changes from red to green, the camera sees that the ambient light colour shifted, and this colour shift is used to recolour the image of Window, FRAME 1, to match the rest of the shirt that is not blocked by the system.

Next, the processor changes the picture to a stored image of the wearer's chest under the shirt, so the person might see, for example, the left part of the chest, such as the left nipple, and some chest hair, along with skin, as Window, FRAME 2. Next, an image of the wearer's beating heart is shown, either by modulation of an ultrasound image, or by playing back a prerecorded video of a real live beating heart, or the like, as Window, FRAME 3. Preferably there are electrodes on the back of the system, so the wearer's real heart beat modulates the video, speeding it up or slowing it down, by time-warping and interpolating or antialiasing between frames, so that the video shown of the heart exactly matches the wearer's true heart beat.

Then, as if going inside the heart, its waveform (electrocardiogram) is displayed as a realtime updated graphical plot, Window, FRAME 4.

Finally, live video, as Window, FRAME 5, from a rearward looking backworn camera is switched onto display system, as if to form a window that lets a person see right through the body of the wearer. This might, for example, show some department store merchandise that's behind the wearer, if the wearer happened to be in a department store.

Thus these six segments of imagery, displayed in sequence, move from that which is in front of the wearer, to that which is inside the wearer, moving through the wearer's shirt, skin, heart, and finally right through the wearer to show what is behind the wearer.

The various elements of this system respond in various ways to the wearer's heartbeat, which is affected by the other person. Thus the wearer and the other person collaborate to create a multimedia Ouiki, wherein the attribution of the multimedia content, at least in some regards of composition, is ambiguous.

This figure



shows the other person interacting with a nonwearable version of the system. The person sees a reflection in mirror mode, when a video signal from camera is routed by way of processor PROC., to video display, TV. Then processor PROC. switches to window mode, wherein a previously recorded image from the window camera is displayed. Preferably the image was recorded by placing the window camera exactly where it is expected that a user will stand. Preferably also the image is taken before the display TV is installed, so that the window camera can take a picture of exactly what is behind the display TV, as viewed from the expected vantage point of the user.

Preferably a dictionary of such images is captured for a variety of physical locations of potential users, so that while the system is in window mode, mirror camera (ordinarily only used for mirror mode) continues to operate, but this time, to track the location of a user, and display an appropriate entry from the dictionary, or an interpolated view, constructed from multiple dictionary entries.

Thus the window camera's picture signal (shown in dotted lines, to denote that it comes from a virtual camera, constructed from dictionary entries), is a synthetic signal. However, mirror camera can determine the time of day, and insert an appropriate daytime or nighttime (or photoquantimetric interpolant) image to sustain the illusion of transparency of the display TV.

Now with multiple copies of the apparatus of the above figure in various countries around the world, it then becomes possible to have these windows switch, from mirrors, to windows, to world windows. This produces a global connectivity, in which there is provided a reality metaphor, that can mediate an interactional metaphor. In this way, a user in Toronto might, for example, converse with or interact with a user in the Far East. Perhaps even, by using the projector system pointing downward (as with the dance floor), it can be made to seem that the earth is transparent. Looking down at the floor, we see people on the other side of the earth, as if we could see through the earth. They look back at us, as if the whole earth were transparent.

In this way, we share a virtual environment, or a computer mediated environment, in which dancing and file sharing occur instead of terrorism and file hoarding.

Our sharing is free, both in the monetary sense (no flow of money, no sale), as well as in the attribution sense (no credit for creation of art(ifacts)). End of article


About the Author

Steve Mann, inventor of WearComp (wearable computer) and WearCam (eyetap camera and reality mediator), is currently a faculty member in the University of Toronto's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Editorial history

Paper received 31 December 2002; accepted 1 February 2003.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2003, First Monday

Copyright ©2003, Steve Mann

Cyborg logs and collective stream of (de)consciousness capture for producing attribution-free informatic content such as cyborglogs by Steve Mann
First Monday, volume 8, number 2 (February 2003),