Portraits In Posthumanity: Steve Mann

Canadian geek artist Steve Mann has augmented his vision with wearable computers for most of his life. He invented his "smart pants" in high school, perfected his body tech rig at MIT, and now has one eye that's a camera.

Mann isn't exactly a cyborg - he doesn't control his augmentations with his mind, and he doesn't require them to survive. But this man's lifelong experiment with wearable computers makes him the first of a new breed. He's the beginning of what Neal Stephenson dubbed "gargoyles," people whose entire bodies have been augmented to record the world around them and zap the information back to a server.


Here you can see Mann's transformations over the years as his wearable rig has gotten more modular. At MIT, he worked on wearable computers with a lab full of fellow travelers (image below). Later, at University of Toronto (where he still teaches), he helmed several projects related to body augmentation and surveillance. One of his favorite tricks is to visit areas that are under heavy surveillance, and record them.

Living for his entire life with wearable computers, and often with a camera for an eye, has no doubt changed the way Mann approaches the world. He's written a lot about this in countless scientific and popular articles (you can read some of those on his website).


Today Mann has become interested in augmented forms of hearing as well as vision. For the past several years, when he's not being a father, he's worked on projects to design new kinds of musical instruments (some made mostly of water) that can transform the way human bodies experience sound.


When you hear about people with wearable computers, or talk about how having an iPhone with constant internet access has changed your life, think about Steve Mann. He was doing this back in the early 1980s. He's truly a posthuman pioneer.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter