The Bionic Eye

120px-Brushfield.jpgAccording to Government Technology, engineers at the University of Washington have developed contact lenses with integrated circuitry. Although the lenses have only been tested on animals, researchers are working on having electronic lenses overlay a display over a person’s visual field without impairing sight. Researchers hope that the lenses, once completed, will allow users to zoom in on distant objects and see useful facts. Future applications might allow drivers and pilots to see their direction and speed projected across their view or to surf the Web without a monitor. The circuit components would be powered by integrated solar cells and a wireless radio-frequency receiver.

Electronic contacts lenses gives rise to interesting questions about their potential use. Could a zoom function and connection to the Net allow drivers to record and transmit the license plates of reckless drivers to insurance companies and local police? Lior Strahilevitz’s superb article “‘How’s My Driving’ for Everyone (and Everything?)” contemplated the use of technologies to report driver misconduct to assist the police in combating dangerous driving, reduce information assymetries in the insurance market, improve the tort system, and alleviate driver frustration over the current feeling of helplessness in the face of reckless driving. As the article demonstrates, the virtual anonymity of drivers magnifies dangerous behavior on the road because drivers do not suffer social disapproval for poor driving and have a profound sense that they will never get caught. These lenses could fundamentally alter that sense of anonymity on the road and could deter antisocial behavior. The bionic eye could play an important role in altering behavior and may raise privacy concerns worth discussing.

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7 Responses

  1. Doug says:

    Will it also let me turn in people that hold up traffic by driving slowly in the fast lane?

  2. Michael Renteria says:

    You have only scratched the surface of the uses for this. Imagine every Policeman wearing these, talk about a dashboard cam. And any couple that had an arguement about who said what would quickly be resolved, or would it? Maybe it would be best of it didn’t work.Just a thought.

  3. isabel pietri says:

    I guess all the cats and dogs on which these were tested on can really tell us all about it. This is a good subject for PETA to discuss!

  4. A.J. Sutter says:

    I think it’s a bit strong to say that the researchers “hope” for the zooming capability. The proposals mentioned in the U. Wash. press release are more modest. The reference to “zoom[ing] in” to see “useful facts” appears only in the press agent’s intoductory mention of fictional characters like Terminator. Even the EE Times story you link to speaks of “zooming” in a more conjectural tone, and doesn’t clearly attribute the that topic to the researchers. Nor are police applications mentioned.

    Your post gives an interesting contrast in thinking about means and ends. You spend a lot of time talking about the goal of reducing reckless driving, and alleviating drivers’ feelings of “frustration” and “helplessness”. But the (putative) zoom lenses’ possible impact on behavior generally, and on privacy, are just mentioned in passing. (I leave aside the issue of whether roads really will be made safer if drivers are zooming in on distant license plates and then reporting wirelessly to the police, all while continuing to drive.)

    For the sake of less reckless driving, is it really worth encouraging everyone to spy on each other? What kind of society would that be? Why would use of the lenses be limited to reporting driving misconduct? Certainly there is a lot of “antisocial behavior” that could be reduced by reducing anonymity. What else might be deterred? Are the downsides of your proposal worth only such a casual mention?

  5. Danielle Citron says:

    Thanks to all for your terrific comments. Yes, one can imagine all kinds of uses for these lenses and I merely scratched the surface. But as A.J. Sutter notes wisely, these lenses and their potential uses, however widesweeping they may be, raise important privacy issues. Lior’s excellent article addresses a few of them and we share a concern about the role that anonymity plays in anti-social behavior (for me, it is anonymous groups who attack vulnerable people online). I would be interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on the various privacy issues and sought to raise the question.

    Thanks, as always, for such great comments.

    DKC

  6. Danielle Citron says:

    Thanks to all for your terrific comments. Yes, one can imagine all kinds of uses for these lenses and I merely scratched the surface. But as A.J. Sutter notes wisely, these lenses and their potential uses, however widesweeping they may be, raise important privacy issues. Lior’s excellent article addresses a few of them and we share a concern about the role that anonymity plays in anti-social behavior (for me, it is anonymous groups who attack vulnerable people online). I would be interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts on the various privacy issues and sought to raise the question.

    Thanks, as always, for such great comments.

    DKC