Be your own souvenir (3D printing Barcelona)

“Take a picture; it’ll last longer.” Many times has that bit of sarcasm been directed at people who stare just a little too long. But suppose the guy is staring because he’s taking your picture? Text: Brian Wassom.

That creepy scenario may play itself out sooner than we think. While many commentators are (rightly) concerned about the ramifications of technology that identifies us by our facial features, devices that can map our bodies in three dimensions and track every gesture in real time are already flooding our living rooms. The Microsoft Kinect is just the first of what will surely be many types of devices with this ability.

Such advanced mechanical vision is a necessary precursor to a world with fully interactive augmented reality applications. It won’t be long until we have AR eyewear with the same (and even better) ability to perceive and record three-dimensional objects. (Call this 3-dimensional video, or–if can I coin a term–”3deo.”)

But we don’t need to wait for AR eyewear to see some of the consequences of ubiquitous 3deo. All sorts of people have already hacked the Kinect to do some pretty amazing things. This video clip shows people on a sidewalk stepping into an outdoor studio consisting of three hacked Kinects and a 3-D printer, and stepping out with nearly instantaneous sculptures of themselves:


Kinects didn’t even exist a year ago. How much more quickly, and with much higher resolution, will this sort of thing be done five years from now? A long glance by someone wearing 3deo-equipped AR eyewear may be all it takes to record a high-resolution image of your entire body as you walk past them on the sidewalk.

Would that be legal? In the US, under today’s laws, the answer is very probably “yes.” (The reaction that Google Street View has gotten in Europe suggests that privacy laws in those countries may take a dimmer view of the practice.) There is no expectation of privacy that prevents anyone from taking your photograph in open, public places. The liberties of free speech and newsgathering inherent in the First Amendment to the US Constitution make it nearly impossible to legally prohibit such conduct. The same rules would apply to 3-dimensional photography or video.

Nor would copyright law stand in the way. US copyright law protects original works of creative expression. The courts are quite clear, though, that replicating in a different medium (including 3-D digital models) something that already exists doesn’t qualify as original expression. As this article ably explains, that means that replicating an actual human body in digital space would not create a copyrightable work.

Legal remedies may exist, however, depending on what someone does with their digital recreation of you. The number of potential uses are as broad as the imagination, and many of them may not be objectionable at all. Imagine a “Mii” avatar that looked exactly like you, for instance.

But human nature being what it is, there’s one obvious way that someone’s digital image could be misused: porn. Cell phones and the internet have already made it far too common for naked pictures–whether genuine or Photoshopped–to be distributed online without the depicted person’s consent. The personal and social consequences for the victim can be devastating.

But what if it were just as easy to digitally render your entire body in three dimensions as it currently is to snap a photo? The cell phone “sexting” phenomenon is already bad enough; teens with 3deo-capable phones are going to get themselves into even worse situations than they do now. But you wouldn’t necessarily even have to be naked for someone to make such a rendering. Body scanners at the airport already see through our clothes; perhaps smaller devices will do the same in the future. And even without that ability, could it be that difficult for a computer to discern the shape of our bodies based on how our clothes fall over them–at least accurately enough to satisfy the peeper’s deviant purposes?

The porn industry is already investing heavily in AR, and for a time, it may take well-financed companies to generate AR content that people will pay for. But not for long. Like the internet before it, AR technology will soon be cheap and accessible enough for anyone to make and publish their own content–especially when gathering “source material” becomes as easy as people watching. Once someone has your 3D digital image, there’ll be nothing to stop them from animating it any way they like. (...)