Constancy. An embodiment of HI is operationally constant; that is, although it might have power-saving (sleep) modes, it is never completely shut down (as is typically a calculator worn in a shirt pocket but turned off most of the time). More important, it is also interactionally constant—that is, the device's inputs and outputs are always potentially active. Interactionally constant implies operationally constant, but operationally constant does not necessarily imply interactionally constant.
So, for example, a pocket calculator kept in your pocket but left on all the time is still not interactionally constant, because you cannot use it in this state (you still have to pull it out of your pocket to see the display or enter numbers). A wristwatch is a borderline case. Although it operates constantly to keep proper time and is conveniently worn on the body, you must make a conscious effort to orient it within your field of vision to interact with it.
Wearable computers are unique in their ability to provide this always-ready condition, which might, for example, include retroactive video capture for a face-recognizing reminder system. After-the-fact devices such as traditional cameras and palmtop organizers cannot provide such retroactive computing.
Figure 1a depicts the signal flow from human to computer, and computer to human, for the constancy mode.
Once, people did not see why devices should be operationally and interactionally constant; this shortsighted view led to the development of many handheld or so-called "portable" devices. In this special issue, however, we will see why it is desirable to have certain personal-electronics devices, such as cameras and signal-processing hardware, always on—for example, to facilitate new forms of intelligence that assist the user in new ways.
Augmentation. Traditional computing paradigms rest on the notion that computing is the primary task. Intelligent systems embodying HI, however, rest on the notion that computing is not the primary task. HI assumes that the user will be doing something else while computing, such as navigating through a corridor or walking down stairs. So, the computer should augment the intellect or the senses, without distracting a primary task. Implicit in this mode is a spatiotemporal contextual awareness from sensors (wearable cameras, microphones, and so on).
Figure 1b depicts the signal flow between the human and computer in this mode.
Mediation. Unlike handheld devices, laptop computers, and PDAs, good embodiments of HI can encapsulate the user (see Figure 1c). Such an apparatus doesn't necessarily need to completely enclose us. However, the basic concept of mediation allows for whatever degree of encapsulation is desired (within the limits of the apparatus), because it affords us the possibility of a greater degree of encapsulation than traditional portable computers. As with the augmentation mode, a spatiotemporal contextual awareness from sensors is implicit in this mode.
The encapsulation that mediation provides has two aspects, one or both of which can be implemented in varying degrees, as desired.
The first aspect is solitude. The ability to mediate our perception lets an embodiment of HI act as an information filter. For example, we can block out material we might not wish to experience (such as offensive advertising) or replace existing media with different media (for example, see the " Filtering Out Unwanted Information" sidebar). In less extreme manifestations, it might simply let us moderately alter aspects of our perception of reality. Moreover, it could let us amplify or enhance desired inputs. This control over the input space contributes considerably to the most fundamental HI issue: user empowerment.
The second aspect is privacy. Mediation lets us block or modify information leaving our encapsulated space. In the same way that ordinary clothing prevents others from seeing our naked bodies, an embodiment of HI might, for example, serve as an intermediary for interacting with untrusted systems, such as third-party implementations of digital anonymous cash. In the same way that martial artists, especially stick fighters, wear a long black robe or skirt that reaches the ground to hide the placement of their feet from their opponent, a good embodiment of HI can clothe our otherwise transparent movements in cyberspace and the real world.
Other technologies such as desktop computers can, to a limited degree, help us protect our privacy with programs such as Pretty Good Privacy. However, the primary weakness of these systems is the space between them and their user. Compromising the link between the human and the computer (perhaps through a Trojan horse or other planted virus) is generally far easier when they are separate entities.
A personal information system that the wearer owns, operates, and controls can provide a much greater level of personal privacy. For example, if the user always wears it (except perhaps during showering), the hardware is less likely to fall prey to attacks. Moreover, the close synergy between the human and computer makes the system less vulnerable to direct attacks, such as someone looking over your shoulder while you're typing or hiding a video camera in the ceiling above your keyboard.
For the purposes of this special issue, we define privacy not so much as the absolute blocking or concealment of personal information, but as the ability to control or modulate this outbound information channel. So, for example, you might wish members of your immediate family to have greater access to personal information than the general public does. Such a family-area network might feature an appropriate access control list and a cryptographic communications protocol.
In addition, because an embodiment of HI can encapsulate us—for example, as clothing directly touching our skin—it might be able to measure various physiological quantities.
Thus, the encapsulation shown in Figure 1c enhances the signal flow in Figure 1a. Figure 1d makes this enhanced signal flow more explicit. It depicts the computer and human as two separate entities within an optional protective shell, which the user can fully or partially open if he or she desires a mixture of augmented and mediated interaction.
Combining modes. The three modes are not necessarily mutually exclusive; constancy is embodied in augmentation and mediation. These last two are also not necessarily meant to be implemented in isolation. Actual embodiments of HI typically incorporate aspects of augmentation and mediation. So, HI is a framework for enabling and combining various aspects of each of these modes.
1. Unmonopolizing. The device does not necessarily cut you off from the outside world as a virtual reality game or the like does.
2. Unrestrictive. You can do other things while using the device—for example, you can input text while jogging or running down stairs.
3. Observable. The device can get your attention continuously if you want it to. The output medium is constantly perceptible. It is sufficient that the device is almost always observable, within reasonable limitations—for example, as when a camera viewfinder or computer screen is not visible when you blink your eye.
4. Controllable. The device is responsive. You can take control of it at any time. Even in automated processes, you should be able to manually override the automation to break open the control loop and become part of the loop. Examples of this controllability might include a Halt button you can invoke when an application mindlessly opens all 50 documents that were highlighted when you accidentally pressed Enter.
5. Attentive. The device is environmentally aware, multimodal, and multisensory. This ultimately gives you increased situational awareness.
6. Communicative. You can use the device as a communications medium when you wish. It lets you communicate directly to others or helps you produce expressive or communicative media.
Steve Mann is a faculty member at the University of Toronto's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He built the world's first covert fully functional wearable image processor with computer display and camera concealed in ordinary eyeglasses and was the first person to put his day-to-day life on the Web as a sequence of images. He received his PhD in personal imaging from MIT. Contact him at the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Eng., Univ. of Toronto, 10 King's College Rd., S.F. 2001, Canada, M5S 3G4. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by tapping into his right eye, http://eyetap.org.