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Opening Thoughts: Cameras: Shaping the Way We See the World

We examine efforts to ensure that human rights become a guiding principle for technology development.
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Anne Perusek headshotHuman fascination in using light to produce images with cameras began long ago and endures. Through the camera, an image is created, freezing that moment in time and preserving it through its physical representation — the picture — rather than memory alone. Photography allows us to view people, places, and things without ever having to be in the same physical space. Pictures can provide more information than could be discernible to the eye alone. Truly, the camera has brought far-reaching changes to our perceptions of reality.

This issue looks at cameras from their technical evolution to some of their social impacts. Our timeline of key points, “Cameras: Altering the Way We See Reality,” identifies innovations such as the first paper photographs, hand-held cameras, color photography, motion pictures, thermal imagery, digital cameras, and the cell phone camera. We also note projections for the future.

In “History’s Viewfinder – Women in Camera Technology,” become acquainted with Marie Van Brittan Brown, who created the first wireless, closed-circuit television system for home security. Learn about the contributions of woman engineer and physicist Katharine Burr Blodgett, Ph.D., whose work is largely responsible for “invisible glass” and monomolecular films. And appreciate that it was SWE Fellow and Past President Naomi McAfee, the first woman to hold a supervisory engineering position at Westinghouse, who headed the team responsible for developing the Apollo 11 lunar television camera.

The proliferation of cameras — on cell phones, in doorbells, on street corners, in the office, public and private spaces, and every manner of surveillance applications — impacts modern life in innumerable ways, some of which are just beginning to be understood. “Cameras Everywhere: Examining the Conflict Between Technology and Human Rights” offers a careful look at cameras and the tools of facial recognition, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Echoing the words of Sarah Myers West, a postdoctoral researcher at New York University’s AI Now Institute, “It is critical that we have a public conversation about the social impact of AI systems … and to engage in research to inform that conversation.”

Attempting to contribute to that conversation, our story addresses perspectives from a variety of disciplines, including the engineers and technologists who have recommended policies and standards to avoid misuse and abuse. We examine efforts to ensure that human rights become a guiding principle for technology development.

And in a venture reminiscent of a sci-fi story, we examine an effort between architecture, neuroscience, and engineering that involves virtual reality, measuring the ways features of sustainable buildings affect human health and well-being — long before a structure is built. Please see “This is Your Brain on Green Buildings.”

Lastly, as the Society celebrates its upcoming 70th anniversary, we take a look at our archives and the archivist who is keeper of SWE’s history. “Using the Past to Inform the Future: An Interview with SWE Archivist Troy Eller English” is a lively discussion on the role of the collection and its value to members, researchers, and the public, plus the evolving nature of archival work, and her most recent, inspiring finds.

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Director of Editorial & Publications
anne.perusek@swe.org


“Opening Thoughts: Cameras: Shaping the Way We See the World” was written by Anne M. Perusek, Director of Editorial & Publications. This article appears in the Winter 2020 issue of SWE Magazine.

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