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Are Smart Contact Lenses Here to Efface Privacy?

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The patent is 29 pages long and all in Korean. That might the reason why Samsung’s Smart Contact Lenses went unnoticed for several years. Now, it’s out.

The product, from the get go, is a potential privacy nightmare. The lenses are equipped with a camera, display, an antenna, and sensors (the actual processing operations happen in your smartphone.) This might still sound like science fiction, but there are existing products that already have similar capabilities, like Samsung’s lenses for monitoring glucose levels in people with diabetes.

The patent application

The patent application

Remember the controversy around Google Glass’ built-in camera? Well, these new lenses would be practically invisible. If you’ve seen the British series Black Mirror, you might remember an episode that is precisely about the ability to record every single second of life. A couple, and affair, and evidence that cannot be unseen… The series also features a woman literally blurring someone’s face, forever, which could also be possible in these lenses thanks to a projected overlay from the display.

I am all for technology, innovation, and bionic powers, but I cannot deny a camera hidden in lenses exudes creepiness potential. It’s one thing to have augmented reality feed you information you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise, and another to have everything you (and others) see potentially recorded and distributed. The repercussions are just enormous, and every new example I can think of is worse than the previous one.

When the question of privacy arises, what follows necessarily is a discussion about consent. We know we are technologically ready to execute such a product. The thing is: Are we even able to have that conversation? I cannot but wonder what changes something like this would bring to the way we relate to each other (undoubtedly, smartphones and computer have done this already, and we are still catching up with the consequences of such a drastic new paradigm – with more or less success.)

“Before the prospect of an intelligence explosion, we humans are like small children playing with a bomb. Such is the mismatch between the power of our plaything and the immaturity of our conduct.”  Nick Bostrom about AI

Smart contact lenses = life memories selfies? (“oh guys, remember my 1st birthday? Here, let’s look at it.”)

Credit photo

yisela

UX Designer and Anthropologist, hardcore gamer, obsessive reader and improvised artificer of crafts. I cheated on population genetics with graphic design and since that the three of us have been living happily ever after. I enjoy writing little pieces on practically anything that catches my eye, but I lean towards those occasions when art overlaps with science.

4 comments on “Are Smart Contact Lenses Here to Efface Privacy?
  1. benteh on said:

    Fascinating, and yes, a little creepy…. though it is perhaps worth noting that there was an outrage when the first hand-held cameras became available:

    “The appearance of Eastman’s cameras was so sudden and so pervasive that the reaction in some quarters was fear. A figure called the “camera fiend” began to appear at beach resorts, prowling the premises until he could catch female bathers unawares. One resort felt the trend so heavily that it posted a notice: “PEOPLE ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE THEIR KODAKS ON THE BEACH.” Other locations were no safer. For a time, Kodak cameras were banned from the Washington Monument. The “Hartford Courant” sounded the alarm as well, declaring that “the sedate citizen can’t indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday School children.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eastman/peopleevents/pande13.html)

    Video contact lenses are clearly a step up in the creepy-department, I just think it is interesting how we adapt to, and how we adapt technology.

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      • benteh on said:

        I thought a little bit more about it; and technology I find far more creepy are versions of drones. Partics tiny ones, in insect sizes. If someone turns up with “recorder-contact lenses” that is creepy, but at least you know you are being observed anyway. When drones are fly-size, you will never know.

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  2. bakabakadesign on said:

    I am reminded of an issue popping up a few years ago: there were some hipsters who started wearing tiny cameras on their clothing, which took pictures every, say, 60 seconds. They saw this as a valuable way to live their lives more intensely, as the camera allowed them to re-live each moment. The big issue was privacy: they found lots of people objecting to be recorded this way.

    This development seems unstoppable, though. I think that this world, at a certain point, needs to come to terms with the fact that not only can *anything* be photographed or filmed, but everything *is*. Whether I like that or not is… another matter :)

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