Dr. Steve Mann Attacked for Wearing Computer-Aided Vision System

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.

Mann EyeTap digital eye glassSteve 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.”

– McDonald’s

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.

(via KurzweilAI)


  1. David says

    Great article,one question though.Ste you sure he contacted the US embassy and not the Canadian one seeing he lives in Canada?

  2. oswallt says

    A little research shows that this person does this kind of thing for attention. He doesn’t actually have any visual impairment, it’s just a HUD. The talk page of his wikipedia article is enlightening.

    • Eric M says

      Reading Wikipedia is not research Oswallt.

      Now please cite some sources on him doing “this kind of thing for attention”

  3. SkepticJackal says

    Curiosity63, I find offensive, not only from you but from all anglo speakers, that they think all people in the world should learn English, a language forcefully imposed by military and cultural imposition of a thuggish and authoritarian country like the United States. It would be useful that once in a while you and people like you left behind their sorry provincianism and try to learn and understand other cultures, other languages, other ways of life. Who knows, that may at some point in the far future give you enough empathy to stop invading other countries when you want to steal their resources or keep them economically subjugated.

    • says

      I find it offensive that you assume, and generalize, that all “anglo” speakers ONLY speak english. Don’t pretend that the U.S. is the only country in the history of the world to every show strong military force. While I don’t condone it I find it offensive that all other nations seem to absolve themselves of any military or political transgressions simply because they because they occurred over 100 years ago. Do you hold then, that because of the opinion of a few of North America, that the actions of these McDonald’s employees is excusable because the professor was an “anglo” speaking man with a piece of technology? This behaviour is inexcusable for anyone regardless of nationality or language. How dare your sir!

    • Letsthink says

      A. Not all English speakers think that all people in the world should learn English. That is a gross exaggeration. And I believe that we all know that French is no longer the “lingua franca” of the world; if anything it’s English, Japanese, or Mandarin.
      B. Do you really think that vitriolic diatribes like the one you’ve just given prove the point of trying to understand other peoples? The United States isn’t the only country that could do with a dose of understanding.
      C. Your use of the term “provincialism” is ironic, considering that in the article it is Parisians, not the people visiting Paris from the “provinces” who seem narrow-minded and lacking in sophistication. Indeed, the visitors were in France for the purpose of language immersion (see Dr. Mann’s blog), which I believe you mentioned as something English speakers ought to be doing.

  4. Michael Evans says

    The post does not really explain why he was attacked or why they asked to see some sort of documentation about the rig in the first place.

    • Profile photo of Dave Peterson says

      That’s unclear right now – Dr. Mann doesn’t seem to know either. Maybe something about cameras in the restaurant, or just an aversion to the unfamiliar. Hard to imagine an actual “reason” though.

  5. Sean Maysack says

    Makes you wonder what they would do to a guy wearing an orange wig, big yellow pants and clown makeup, oh wait…

  6. says

    Thank you Dave,
    for this well written story.

    It is a shame for society in general in my view that things like these are allowed to happen. I’ve been in Paris once and never returned because of the fact that most Parisian only speak French and not the world language English. I find it wrong that a country as big as France doesn’t get into the 21st century and chooses to stay behind in today’s world.

    I hope nobody takes offence to what I’ve written here. It is based on my own experience and thought people should know about it.

    Take care,

  7. Dave Coburn says

    McDonald’s … really? I would expect a better choice of diet from professor and I certainly wouldn’t expect any sense of exceptional intelligence from McDonald’s employees. For shame.

  8. Rushton Howard says

    Of course, the French will be the first to surrender when the Borg invade. And, yet, they can act tough when there’s just one of them!