The Witnessential Computer


Witnessential Networks

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. ...

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

--Genesis 3:7 (See, for example,

Such is the nature of existentialism, that the choices and decisions we make can greatly affect us, and others around us. Existentialism certainly pertains to self-determination and mastery over our own destiny, whether for better or worse.

But the central core concept of existentialism is the notion of ``existence before essence'', e.g. the notion that bringing something into existence is the cause of essence. Some argue that nothing exists before our choices are made.

Whether simple concepts like sin, good, and evil, can have essence in a pure abstract form, without first having existence by being reduced to practice, is a question we could debate for many years.

In many ways existentialism reverses Plato's ideas that there is an abstract essence of something before it is reduced to practice.

In the context of modern scientific inventions, Plato might have said that an invention is the reduction to practice (e.g. making something exist) of an already existing idea (an abstract essence).

While it was once said that ``necessity is the mother of invention'' (which I am certain arises from such Platonic reasoning) such a view is excessively limiting, and may give rise to inventors merely filling existing needs, and bringing into existence only that which caters to previously established essence.

However we must also consider the possibility that the very act of invention can create new ideas (essences) in their abstract form. In other words, there could at least be some examples for which an abstract idea or essence arises through the very act of inventing.

Inventions that define this class of technologies, are what I call ``Existential Technologies''.

Existential Technology is technology that reveals or exposes a new need that was not previously even known.

Many engineers follow the Platonic model, and thus Existential Technologies are rare but valuable exceptions to this Platonic model.

Platonic technologies satisfy a specific practical (and already-present) need, or purpose, whereas Existential Technologies do not necessarily need to be limited to those which address a practical purpose. Indeed, an important class of Existential Technologies are those which reveal or expose in important abstract truth or concept, even if the Existential Technologies have no further practical use.

Two important classes of Existential Technologies are:

(See Reflectionism and Diffusionism..., Leonardo, ....)

Essence (abstract ideas) can also embody ideals (ideology). Thus Existential Technology often uses reduction to practice (invention) to bring new idea(l)s into existence.

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody Witnesses

Heisenberg gave us an important insight into the notion of uncertainty in measurement, and thus the notion that we cannot measure something without having this act of measurement affect that something.

Thus merely Witnessing an event will affect the outcome of that event.

It may be a stretch of the imagination, and indeed an exaggeration of what are, in practice, very small effects, to suggest that witnessing an event will effect the outcome of the event to such a degree that we could go as far as to argue that the witnessing is the cause of (or at least substantially contributed to) the outcome of an event. But there can be at least some instances where witnessing an event can have a drastic effect on the outcome of the event, especially if the witnessing is done rather blatantly, or its effects are made blatantly evident.

Such is the case when reporters are present at an event. The mere existence of reporters, photojournalists, and videographers is often sufficient to prevent, or at least deter violent action by both sides of a conflict (in contrast to police surveillance which may deter violent action from one side, but not necessarily deter police brutality because of the one-sided reporting possible when all the Witnesses are from that one side).

Such a situation is in sharp contrast to that which Heisenberg considered where measurement instruments are designed to affect outcomes as little as possible. Indeed, a sensitive voltmeter is one which has the highest ohms per volt rating possible, so that measurement of a voltage affects that voltage as little as possible.

But Witnessence, as I call it, is the principle of Witness before essence, and in putting Witnessence to practice, it is often desired (in contrast to traditional physics of measurement) that the very act of Witnessing can and will change the outcomes of certain events, at least over the long term.

An important goal of Witnessence is that would-be perpetrators of human rights violence, mass murder (whether ``lawful'' or not), and other similarly highly unethical behaviour might be embarrassed or inconvenienced by a certain kind of Witnessential Computer Network I will describe in this paper.

I might even go so far as to say: ``Existence OR Essence without Witnessence is but the ruin of the soul.''.

Let the goodcrimes roll

Frame, action, rolling!
And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

Acts 16:21-23

Like Paul, many have endured prison and torture for what we might expect should be protected speech. Are these people dangerous criminals. Yes, dangerous to a totalitarian regime. But to the extent that these people may be good for society, their ``crimes'' are what I like to call ``goodcrimes'', e.g. crimes that are good for society because they expose unjust laws, or sometimes even get unjust laws revoked. Acts of civil disobedience often fall under the category of what I call ``goodcrimes''.

The teaching of certain thoughts and ideas has often been regarded as a crime. And, since Roman times, certain kinds of what we might like to call ``Free Speech'' have been regarded as crime. But not only is speaking often prohibited, sometimes so is taking notes, or remembering what is spoken. As recently as the WTO meetings in Washington, police orders heard over the police radio requested the siezing or destruction of reporters' written notes, and many instances of attempted willful destruction of photograhic and video evidence have been perpetrated by both the police, the military, and by others.

But these same police and military forces have their own surveillance networks, police photographers, police videographers, and covert surveillance infrastructure. Such one sided Witnessence is perhaps worse than no Witnessence at all.

Such is the case in a department store, where an otherwise hidden video surveillance camera is connected to a large television screen hanging at the entrance to the store, so that everyone entering the store can see that they are being witnessed by the otherwise hidden camera.

Instead of having a television screen, video surveillance cameras are often conspicuously concealed in large smoked plexiglass domes of wine-dark opacity, so that an otherwise hidden camera creates a highly visible uncertainty. Often dozens of domes are used to conceal only a few cameras, with most of the domes being empty. Such domes call to mind a gambling casino or department store, where video surveillance is used extensively, yet photography or videography by individual persons is strictly prohibited. Casinos, department stores, customs offices, and other places having such monopolistic Witnessing policy fall under the following definition of totalitarian regime:

In one of the earliest critiques of the ID card proposal (January 1986) Professor Geoffrey de Q Walker, now dean of law at Queensland University, observed: One of the fundamental contrasts between free democratic societies and totalitarian systems is that the totalitarian government [or other totalitarian organization] relies on secrecy for the regime but high surveillance and disclosure for all other groups, whereas in the civic culture of liberal democracy, the position is approximately the reverse.

---Simon Davies


If only one side is permitted to have (or be) witnesses, then we are certain to have biased reporting of ``truth''.

Clearly not all ``crimes'' are ``bad'', and likewise not all ``lawful actions'' are ``good''.

Piracy is not about computer ``software'' (or if it is, maybe the term should be used to refer to government sponsored theft).

Donald A. Petrie, in his book "The Prize Game: Lawful Looting on the High Seas in the Days of Fighting Sail", (217 pages. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999, ISBN 1-55750-669-8) describes how governments allowed, and even encouraged plundering at sea, by captains of pirate vessels, called privateers. Europe from the Renaissance to the 19th century had the practice of licensing these privateers to plunder enemy ships. This activity was globally approved by all the world's powers. A privateer could obtain a letter authorizing attack on an enemy ship, on behalf of government officials. As a prize for carrying out these attacks, pirates were often awarded, by their government, the total of their take. In the 18th and 19th centuries, England and the United States often provided permission to raid and plunder ships of other governments on the high seas. The U.S. and English governments guaranteed safe haven for the pirates at their ports thus allowed pirates to lawfully profit from their plunder. This practice was not considered ``theft'', since pirates were acting legally within the context of their own government.

The Witnessential Cyborg Being

Partial privacy is no privacy. Our privacy should not be by the grace and favour of any Government.
Human Rights worker writing about the benefits of PGP
The Witnessential Computer consists of a wearable computer (WearComp) system with an imaging device, and networking capability.

The imaging device may include EyeTap technology, as described in, EyeTap technology is technology that causes the eye itself to function as if it were both a camera and a display.

This technology is covered by approximately 35 patents, some issued already, and some forthcoming, in several countries around the world. EXISTech Corporation, the sole licensee of this technology, plans to make the technology freely available to Human Rights groups around the world.

Previously, EXISTech Corporation, the world's leader in Existential Technologies, has manufactured approximately fifty Witnessential Computers. EXISTech's most recent field trials involved seven Witnessential Cyborgs being present at the OCAP rally (what the newspapers referred to as the ``OCAP riots'').

EXISTech's goal is to produce a more ruggedized and more easily operated version of the Witnessential Computers, as well as a special indestructible wireless computer network called the Witnessential Network.

The theoretical and mathematical framework for the Witnessential Network is described in (approximately 2 megabytes gzipped PostScript file).

The key inventive step in this technology is a notion of Fear of Functionality, as described in the above paper:

Traditional surveillance networks, based on so--called ``public safety'' camera systems have been proposed to reduce the allegedly rising levels of crime. However, building such surveillance superhighways may do little to prevent, for example, crime by representatives of the surveillance state, or those who maintain the database of images. Human rights violations can continue, or even increase, in a police state of total state surveillance. ...

An important aspect of this paradigm is the Fear of Functionality (FoF) model. ... Just as many department stores use a mixture of fake nonfunctional cameras and real ones, so that the customer never knows whether or not a given camera is operational, what is needed is a similar means of best case video transmission. Not knowing whether or not one is being held accountable for one's actions, one must be on one's best behavior at all times. Thus a new philosophy, based on FoF, can become the basis of design for image compression, transmission, and representation. ... The Fear of Functionality (FoF) model means that if there exists the possibility that the system might function part of the time, so that a would-be perpetrator of a crime against the wearer of the personal safety device must be on his or her best behavior at all times. ... Other technologies, such as the Internet, have been constructed to be robust enough to resist the hegemony of central authority (or an attack of war). However, an important difference here is that the FoF paradigm is not suggesting the design of robust data compression and transmission networks.

Quite the opposite is true!

The personal safety device need not work constantly, but, rather, must simply present criminals with the possibility that it could work sometimes, or even just occasionally. This scenario forms the basis for best-case design as an alternative to the usual worst-case design paradigm.

The Personal Imaging system therefore transmits video, but the design of the system is such that it will, at the very least, occasionally transmit a meaningful still image. Likewise the philosophy for data compression and transforms needs to be completely re--thought for this FoF model.

This rethinking extends from the transforms and compression approach right down to the physical hardware. For example, typically the wearer's jacket functions as a large low frequency antenna, providing transmission capability in a frequency band that is very hard to stop. For example, the 10 meter band is a good choice because of its unpredictable performance (owing to various ``skip'' phenomena, etc.). However, other frequencies are also used in parallel....

In this way, it becomes nearly impossible for a police state to suppress the signal, because of the possibility that an image may have escaped an iron--fisted regime.

It is not necessary to have a large aggregate bandwidth to support an FoF network. In fact, quite the opposite.

Since it is not necessary that everyone transmit everything they see, at all times, very little bandwidth is needed. It is only necessary that anyone could transmit a picture at any time. This potential transmission (e.g. fear of transmission) need not even be to the Internet, e.g. it could simply be from one person to another to another person.

These new FoF video compression, networking, and communications algorithms have already been developed.

The application of WearComp, in the embodiment of a personal intelligent computer system embodying Humanistic Intelligence (H.I.), was also proposed as a tool for witnesses in the protection of Human Rights (Ars Electronica Symposium, Plenary lecture by Steve Mann, Wednesday Sept. 10, 1997, Linz, Austria,

This essay was done in conjunction with a 1997 performance of the Witnessential Computer, called ``PAINFUL DISCONNECT'' in which pain was experienced when data packets (connectivity) were lost:

In a further embodiment of the `My Manager' performance, a remote agent of my choosing may also provide remote control of my body, in the Stelarc sense, so that I can further subvert myself to an authority that acts in my own interest yet is inaccessible to, and unquestionable by, others.

I may also choose to be given an ``electrical corrective signal'' (through a high-voltage step-up transformer connected to my garment-based computer) should I become disconnected from the Internet. Thus, if I am asked to step into an elevator or the like, I can honestly reply that this would inflict great pain on me.

In that sense somone who forced me to enter an environment in which I might lose radio contact with potential outside accountability would be committing an act which is equivalent to torture.

As torture is viewed as a human rights violation, the goal of this performance piece is to suggest that disconnectivity, against one's will, should also be viewed as a human rights violation.

`Painful Disconnect' makes real the notion that denial of the right to self-surveillance by friends and family is equivalent to possible torture or other mistreatment.

The use of Humanistic Intelligence to defend Human Rights was presented in more detail in the lead article of Proc. IEEE, Vol. 86, No. 11, 1998 (, describing a system that has actually been extensively field-tested in the defense and protection of Human Rights.

An upcoming exhibit at gallery TPW in Toronto will present systems for the protection of Human Rights, wherein the gallery will be transformed into a corporate boardroom, juxtaposed against a mailroom, where Assistant Mailroom Clerks hoping to some day be promoted to Associate Mailroom Clerks will be juxtaposed against the Advisor Board, and Investors Forum taking place in the next room.

An important aspect of this upcoming exhibit is rapid deployment of Witnessential Networks.

Presently, the World Subjectrights Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Toronto, is seeking additional funding to deploy the world's first large-scale Witnessential Networks worldwide.

Witnessential Networks, not cameras!
See what specific properties a Witnessential network should have.
--Dr. Steve Mann
Assistant Mailroom Clerk
EXISTech Corporation
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