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Old April 8, 2012, 01:11 AM
Zunaid Zunaid is offline
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About 17 years ago when I was in Grad school, I visited the MIT media lab where I was introduced to the MIT Borgs. They were working on wearable computers with which they interacted via corded keyboards and glasses with heads-up displays. They were known as the Borgs. One of the Borgs had even convinced the MIT authorities that he could use whatever he had on his wearable hard-drive for exams as long as he was not connected to the internet. He had successfully convinced them that the hard-drive was an extension to his brain storage capacity. I was interested in their heads-up display because my own PhD project needed it. I was using speech and gesture to control a robotic arm to help people with disabilities (quadraplegics) interact with objects on a real desk-top. But, I digress.

Here is a 1999 article on the Borgs:

The Borgs Are Loose And Coming for You


By LISA GUERNSEY
Published: October 14, 1999



THE news that there was going to be a fashion show at Internet World, a computer trade show and geek nirvana in Manhattan last week, was enough to attract a crowd to Booth 3633 in the convention hall. But the people who staked out chairs near the runway an hour before the show were in for a surprise. Instead of catching a glimpse of models or fashion celebrities, they were treated to the spectacle of shaggy-haired men tinkering with circuit boards on a table littered with cables and electrical tape.

But in one sense, these men were the show, at least until the models appeared. Three of them were loaded with gadgets: small plastic display devices were attached to their eyeglasses, cables hung behind their ears. Each one carried a two-pound computer with a wireless modem in a black sidepack. A handheld keypad, called a Twiddler, hung at their sides.
One of the men was Thad Starner, a 29-year-old assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who considers himself one of the first cyborgs. The term, an acronym for cybernetic organism, refers to a being that is part machine, part human. The cyborgs of today, who call themselves borgs for short, wear their computers almost continuously.


Dr. Starner had been fully wired since getting dressed that morning. Having his computer on meant that he could display E-mail messages, Web pages or digital documents in front of his eyes -- anytime, anywhere. With the Twiddler, which fits comfortably in one hand, he can send E-mail and compose letters.
Since December 1996, he has not used a desktop computer. He wrote his 250-page doctoral thesis using the wearable computer, typing with the Twiddler while pacing around his sun porch.
''Instead of a computer at my desk, I have a couch,'' Dr. Starner said. ''That's where I do all my paper writing and problem sets.''

Two other borgs were with him: Josh Weaver, 21, and Rich DeVaul, 28, both students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The three of them, accompanied by friends and faculty members, had come to Internet World to demonstrate the benefits of wearable computers. Dr. Starner is a co-founder of Infocharms, a company that opened shop two months ago with the mission of bringing wearable computing to the marketplace.

In addition to showing off new contraptions, company executives were helping to coordinate a series of high-powered fashion shows designed to spread the gospel of the borg and to raise money for Infocharms through corporate sponsorships.
''We're sick of having to hack together everything we wear,'' Dr. Starner said the day before. ''The best of the hobbyists are now trying to make it mainstream.''
But as visitors to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center gawked at Dr. Starner's get-up, the question remained: Is the public ready for wearable computers, for the augmented intelligence, multitasking and bombardment of information that comes from being constantly connected to a computer? Are people ready to become borgs?

Researchers like to date the concept of wearable technology to 1268, when the English scientist Roger Bacon wrote about lenses to improve vision. A more reasonable date would be in the early 1990's, when technologists like Dr. Starner and Steve Mann, now a professor at the University of Toronto, founded a research group focused on practical, portable computing devices at the M.I.T. Media Lab.
In the last decade, borg attire has become less obtrusive. Computers are thinner and more discreet. Some of the first people researching the devices had to wear bulky display goggles that obstructed their vision. Now they wear smaller devices that attach to one side of their eyeglasses. A few borgs wear displays made of tiny mirrors embedded in their eyeglass lenses -- with the latest version, tiny screens seem to hover in the air just in front of their eyes.

Dr. Starner, an M.I.T. alumnus, is one of the borgs who is almost never seen without his ''wearable.'' He even wears it to bed at night, checking E-mail while his wife sleeps next to him. ''The keyboard is silent,'' he said. ''There is nothing to wake her up.''

The machine has become part of him, with a few exceptions: ''I don't sleep with it or shower with it, at least not on purpose,'' he said.

For Dr. Starner, being a borg means always being wired. He has constant access to his schedule, his to-do list, papers he is writing, his E-mail. Last spring, an hour before he was to give his doctoral defense on wearable computing, he said, he went through a practice run with his wife. She offered a suggestion that required changing the entire structure of his presentation. He was nowhere near a desktop computer, he said, but he jumped into the challenge as he stood there, moving text around and writing new paragraphs on his wearable computer.

Having continual access to a computer and keyboard also means that borgs are forever multitasking, even while having a face-to-face conversation. While you are talking to them, they might be running searches on the Internet or typing in pieces of the conversation for future reference. If two borgs are standing with a group, they may also be surreptitiously sending each other private messages about the other people in the group.

To compensate for the constant juggling, borgs have adopted new forms of social behavior that may seem strange, or even rude, to non-borgs. At one point during the conference, for example, a reporter handed Mr. DeVaul a business card while Mr. DeVaul was in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with Mr. Weaver and a group of M.I.T. graduates. Suddenly, Mr. DeVaul looked as though he had lost control of his eyes, which appeared to be gazing at the ceiling. His left hand was hanging at his side, but the fingers of that hand were flittering over his Twiddler as he typed in information from the card he held in his other hand. His attention, it soon became clear, was focused on the display screen in front of his right eye.

''Social cues in society are going to change,'' said Mr. Weaver, who did not seem to be fazed by his friend's behavior. When a fellow borg is typing on his Twiddler, he said, other borgs have learned to pause and wait for the information to be recorded.

Mr. DeVaul, once he had snapped back into the conversation, said it was like watching people wearing headphones and listening to a Walkman, oblivious to their surroundings. Cell phones are another example. People think nothing of it, Mr. Weaver said, when a person's pocket starts to ring.

By the time the fashion show started that afternoon, hundreds of people had come to Booth 3633. The plastic chairs were full so most people stood up, craning their necks as the beats of technomusic thundered through the exhibit hall.
As the first model strutted out, adorned with a device shaped like a necklace, cameras flashed and a woman's voice boomed over loudspeakers: ''The Nomadic Radio, voice-activated and Internet-connected.''

The model was followed by dozens more, each wearing slim, portable devices. Some were simply concept designs. A few were actual products, like the wrist-wrapped scanner being used by United Parcel Service workers on the job, the portable MP3 player and the waist-worn computer, similar to those used by the borgs at M.I.T. and Georgia Tech.

At one point, a model in a silvery bikini strode up wearing four tiny sensory pads that could track her vital signs. As people pushed in closer to see, Mr. DeVaul seemed oblivious. He sat at a table in the booth, holding a pair of display goggles and fiddling with a tiny antenna.

The idea for the fashion shows came from another of the Infocharms co-founders, Katrina Barillova, a former model. Ms. Barillova came to the United States from what was then Czechoslovokia, where she had worked as an industrial spy by posing as a model, wearing listening devices while attending fancy parties. She designed and sewed her own dresses, she said, because she had to find creative ways to hide the devices in her clothes.

''I would hide them in a chest pocket, in my sleeves, my belt, or in the lining of a jacket,'' Ms. Barillova said.

Fashion shows for wearable computing have been part of the borg landscape for a few years: the M.I.T. Media Lab ran its first one in 1997. Ms. Barillova heard about the shows and wanted to take them to the next level. She reasoned that if wearable computers became associated with glamour, people might be persuaded to try them out. ''Whatever they see celebrities or models wearing, they have to have,'' Ms. Barillova said.

For Infocharms, the fashion shows have proved to be a success. Alex Lightman, the company's president, said sponsorships had brought in about $700,000 in cash and advertising swaps. After the show, part of the crowd moved to the booth's tables to see some of the gadgets that are in development. Mr. DeVaul demonstrated how people could wear display devices and enhanced name tags to exchange information with people. An enhanced name tag displays information about the person when viewed through the devices.

As Mr. Weaver and several M.I.T. professors showed other gadgets displayed on the tables, Dr. Starner, still wearing his computer, was talking to people in the crowd. Although he spoke enthusiastically about being constantly connected, the location of the fashion show was a problem for the borgs. The exhibit hall was in the basement of the Javits Center, where a clear wireless cellular connection was impossible, so Dr. Starner was not able to get access to his E-mail or scan the Web. To make things worse, he was also beta-testing a different portable computer, one that did not include the same information he had stored on his personal hard drive.

Late in the afternoon, someone asked Dr. Starner for the name of a researcher. Because he could not electronically scan his notes, he was forced to rely on his human memory. He was able to recall the name, but he looked distressed at being without his connection. ''Today I'm not myself,'' he said.

The Well-Dressed Borg

The typical borg outfit consists of three pieces of technology. The combination is called the Lizzy, after Tin Lizzy, a nickname for the Ford Model T.

1. THE MONITOR -- The Private Eye, typically mounted on eyeglasses, is an optical display that superimposes text onto the view through the lenses.
2. THE KEYBOARD -- The preferred keyboard of borgs, the Twiddler, is designed to be used in one hand, with the thumb pressing one of six buttons on the back while the index fingers tap the 12 buttons on the front in various combinations.
3. THE C.P.U. -- Portable computers for borgs, including wireless Internet connection, batteries and software (borgs seem to prefer the Linux operating system), typically have a 133-megahertz chip and weigh about two pounds.
Fashions of the Future

At last week's Internet World computer show, Infocharms displayed new borg wear, some of it conceptual, some already in the works.

Clockwise from top left:

VOICE-ACTIVATED INSPECTION SYSTEM -- This input system has a head-mounted display and microphone.
WRISTWATCH CELL PHONE -- The Internet display screen extends straps to operate as a cell phone.
WRAP-AROUND WIRELESS PACK -- This wireless G.P.S. vest could direct a wearer with real nudges.
HEALTH-SENSING ARMBAND -- Monitors would measure and transmit vital signs.
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