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Next: A proposed solution: Humanistic Up: Problem statement Previous: Obvious or obfuscated?

``Environmental intelligence'' or intelligence-gathering systems

There are a number of researchers who have been proposing new computer user-interfaces based on environmental sensors. Buxton, who did much of the early pioneering research into intelligent environments (smart rooms, etc.), was inspired by automatic flush urinals, (as described, for example, in U.S. Pat. 4309781, 5170514, etc.), and formulated, designed, and built a human-computer interaction system called the ``Reactive Room''[4]reactiveroom2. This system consisted of various sensors, including optical sensors (such as video cameras), and processing, so that the room would respond to the user's movement and activity.

Increasingly we are witnessing the emergence of ``intelligent highways'', ``smart rooms'', ``smart floors'', ``smart ceilings'', ``smart toilets'', ``smart elevators'', ``smart lightswitches'', etc.. However, a typical attribute of these ``smart spaces'' is that they were architected by someone other than the occupant. Thus the end-user of the space often does not have a full disclosure of the operational characteristics of the sensory apparatus and the flow of intelligence data from the sensory apparatus.

In addition to the intellectual encryption described in the previous section, where manufacturers could make it difficult, or perhaps impossible for the end user to disassemble such sensory units in order to determine their actual function, there is also the growth of hidden intelligence, in which the user may not even be aware of the sensory apparatus. For example, U.S. Pat. 4309781 (for a urinal flushing device) describes:

...sensor...hidden from view and thus discourage tampering with the sensor... when the body moves away from the viewing area... located such that an adult user of average height will not see it... sensing means, will be behind other components... positioned below the solenoid to allow light in and out. But the solenoid acts in the nature of a hood or canopy to shield the sensing means from the normal line of sight of most users....Thus most users will not be aware of the sensing means. This will aid in discouraging tampering with the sensing means. A possible alternate arrangement would be to place the sensing means below and behind the inlet pipe.

U.S. Pat. 4998673 describes a viewing window concealed inside the nozzle of a shower head, where a fiber optics system is disclosed as a means of making the sensor remote, concealment to prevent users from being aware of its presence. U.S. Pat. 5199639 describes a more advanced system where the beam pattern of the nozzle is adapted to one or more characteristics of the user, while U.S. Pat. 3576277 discloses a similar system based on an array of sensing elements.

Means of creating viewing windows to observe the occupants of a space while, at the same time, making it difficult for the occupants to know if and when they are observed, are proposed in U.S. Pat. 4225881 and U.S. Pat. 5726706.

In addition to concealing the sensory apparatus, a goal of many visual observation systems is to serve the needs of the system architect rather than the occupants. For example, U.S. Pat. 5202666 discloses a system for monitoring employees within a restroom environment, in order to enforce hygiene (washing of hands after use of toilet).

Other forms of ``intelligence'', such as ``intelligent highways'' often have additional uses, beyond those purported by those installing the systems. For example, traffic monitoring cameras were used to round-up, detain, and execute peaceful protesters in China's Tiananmen Square.

U.S. Pat. 4614968 discloses a system where a video camera is used to detect smoke by virtue of the fact that smoke reduces the contrast of a fixed pattern opposite the video camera. However, the patent also notes that the camera can be also used for other functions such as visual surveillance of an area, since only one segment or line of the camera is needed for smoke detection. Again, the camera may thus be justified for one use, and additional uses, not disclosed to occupants of the space, may then evolve. U.S. Pat. 5061977 and 4924416 disclose the use of video cameras to monitor crowds and automatically control lighting, in response to the absorption of light by the crowds. While this form of environmental intelligence is purportedly for the benefit of the occupants (to provide them with improved lighting), there are obvious other uses.

U.S. Pat. 5387768 discloses the use of visual inspection of users in and around an automated elevator. Again, these provide simple examples of environmental intelligence, in which there are other uses, such as security and surveillance. Although even those other uses (security and surveillance) are purportedly for the benefits of the occupants, and it is often even argued that concealing operational aspects of the system from the occupants is also for their benefit, it is an object of this paper to challenge these assumptions and to provide an alternate form of intelligence.

When the operational characteristics, function, data flow, and even the very existence of sensory apparatus is concealed from the end-user, such as behind the grille of a smoke detector, environmental intelligence does not necessarily represent the best form of human-machine relationship for all concerned. Even when the sensors are visible, there must be the constant question as to whether or not the interests of the occupant are identical to those who control the intelligence-gathering infrastructure.

The need for personal space, free from monitoring, has also been recognized[6] as essential to a healthy life. As more and more personal space is stolen from us, we may need to architect an alternative space of our own.


next up previous
Next: A proposed solution: Humanistic Up: Problem statement Previous: Obvious or obfuscated?
Steve Mann
1998-09-15