No matter how advanced our technology becomes, some human beings seem incapable of progressing past thuggish brutality. Thus comes to us the first account of a person with computer technology surgically attached to them (what popular culture calls a cyborg) being attacked because of it.
Steve Mann is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, and a pioneering researcher in wearable computers. For 34 years he has worn some version of computer-aided vision equipment, the most recent being a system called the EyeTap that is surgically attached to his skull. He has worn it for the past 13 years. This month, employees of a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris took violent exception to it.
Attack on Steve Mann
On July 1, Mann and his family were touring Paris on a vacation when they stopped at the McDonald’s at 140, Avenue Champs Elysees. Mann is aware that his vision system tends to arouse curiosity and concern, and was traveling with documentation about it, and a letter from his doctor explaining the medical necessity. Only one place that he visited in two weeks actually needed to see the documents, and that turned out to be McDonald’s.
Upon entering, Mann was stopped by someone identifying themselves as a McDonald’s employee who was concerned about his optical system. After examining the documentation, this person seemed to accept Mann as a customer and the family ordered their food and sat down to eat.
While still in the restaurant, he was approached by another person who tried to pull the vision system off Mann’s face. As it is attached to his skull, this didn’t work, but it did damage the system. And in so doing, an unintentional record was kept of the event. The EyeTap, doesn’t keep images generally, but it holds captures for a period in a buffer until they are overwritten. When the system was damaged, the overwrite stopped happening, and a photographic record of the confrontation was recorded.
Mann was ushered by the person who attacked him into the presence of two others, one of whom was wearing a t-shirt with a McDonald’s logo on the chest. This threesome continued to interrogate him, and when shown the letter from his doctor, one of them tore it up. And yes, there are photos of all of this. The original attacker was also wearing a name badge on his belt and covered it when Mann glanced down at it (but not before an image was captured). After this, the man with the badge pushed Mann out onto the street.
McDonald’s Fails to Respond
Mann contacted police, the embassy and consulate to try to report the matter, all without much success. He has also made numerous attempts to contact McDonald’s, but has received no response. He says he is not seeking financial damages (and does not have the resources to take McDonald’s to court), just enough reimbursement to repair his optic system, and raising consciousness so that people who use computer systems to augment failing vision are not attacked for it.
If multiple people working for McDonald’s did this, the corporation needs to be severely and publicly shamed for it. Sadly, public shaming seems to be the only thing that keeps many companies behaving anywhere near decently sometimes. This is the contact information for McDonald’s in France.
EDIT by John P. 7/19/2012: McDonald’s released a statement yesterday regarding the incident:
“We share the concern regarding Dr. Mann’s account of his July 1 visit to a McDonald’s in Paris. McDonald’s France was made aware of Dr. Mann’s complaints on July 16, and immediately launched a thorough investigation. The McDonald’s France team has contacted Dr. Mann and is awaiting further information from him.
In addition, several staff members involved have been interviewed individually, and all independently and consistently expressed that their interaction with Dr. Mann was polite and did not involve a physical altercation. Our crew members and restaurant security staff have informed us that they did not damage any of Mr. Mann’s personal possessions.
While we continue to learn more about the situation, we are hearing from customers who have questions about what happened. We urge everyone not to speculate or jump to conclusions before all the facts are known. Our goal is to provide a welcoming environment and stellar service to McDonald’s customers around the world.”
After which Dr. Mann published this photo which clearly shows an employee grabbing the glasses.
So, at the end of the day who you gonna believe? McDonald’s employees? Or a freaking professor who has no reason to make up a stupid story about people assaulting him at freaking McDonald’s? Oh, and who has photos of the event!!!
You can read Dr. Mann’s account of the incident, along with a number of image captures, on his blog.