“Privacy is at stake”: what would you do if you had control over your own data? | Art

TThe trick of Refik Anadol’s Machine Hallucinations, a three-day public art installation at The Shed in New York City, is to turn data processing into surreal hypnosis. The immersive audiovisual exhibit towers over a 17,000 square foot cavernous gallery in Hudson Yards, an outer ring of screens showcasing a shimmering, chameleon display of what looks like pixelated sand. But each square is a narrative of data: a familiar image – tree, building, lamppost, over 130m of publicly available images of New York City researched and collected by Anadol and his team’s algorithms – transformed into one. unicoloured square then silenced by a single question: what would you do if you had your data?

The free exhibit, which is part of a $ 250 million project to transfer data ownership from private mega-companies to individual users called Liberty project, presents a tactile, sensory and emotional argument in favor of the dignity of data and the decentralization of the power of the Internet – concepts often so bogged down in technicality, abstraction and vagueness that they are inaccessible.

The overriding objective of Liberty project is to imagine an internet future not ruled by tech CEOs, the loss of your data for participation, surveillance capitalism and the vagaries of social media companies aiming for infinite scale. The project includes high-level manifestos, a speaker series and a new open source protocol, the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol, to serve as the infrastructure for a more equal Internet.

Machine Hallucinations, a work of public art presented in preview to an audience largely hungry for common artistic experiences, offers a kind of entry to the philosophical argument. The installation, an extension of Anadol installation at the Artechouse in the Chelsea market in 2019, takes the obscure, often intimidating and complex concepts of data ownership and digital fingerprints and “makes them more readable, more accessible, so there’s this ability to engage people in a conversation that’s more universal, than it’s not just a bunch of technologists talking to each other, ”Frank McCourt, CEO of McCourt Global Inc and founder of the project, told The Guardian.

Installation of Machine Hallucinations for Project Liberty. Photography: Sasha Charoensub

The argument is subtle cajoling surrounded by overt messages. Anadol’s algorithms mimic imaginative play with hordes of real-life images in a deliberately trance-inducing experience, as if you combine the hypnotic effect of a lava lamp with the giddiness of staring over a waterfall. , while smaller screens around the room offer austere mantras for cropping property data – “your data is BEAUTIFUL”, “your data is POWERFUL” – reminiscent of body positivity slogans. QR codes lead to the project’s programming website, speakers at this week’s Unfinished Live conference, and the mission statement to “Create a New Civic Architecture for the Digital World”. The heart of the installation contains two screens, one representing the current data landscape (no personal control) facing the other to indicate the imagined future (lit and shimmering with the gesture of your hand) which unveils a message. ‘a wave of the hand: »YOU CONTROL YOUR DATA.

Anadol, Born in Istanbul and now based in Los Angeles, sees our vast data footprints – photos, geotags, transactions – as “a form of memory,” he told The Guardian. “Can we use our collective memories to have collective dreams, to incite collective consciousness? “

Machine Hallucinations, produced with Anadol’s team of 14 studio assistants, attempts to shape the input process of an algorithm – a playful, buzzing visualization of artificial intelligence taking and learning from images . A custom algorithm scoured the internet for images of New York City on social media, search engines, digital maps – all available in public domains, due to Anadol’s privacy concerns (and for highlight the fact that this enormous amount of information is available without password violation). Another algorithm then erased the images of the people – no passers-by, no pedestrians, no faces or bodies. “We’re letting the AI ​​learn from this New York City, urban memories of New York City, from different seasons, different times, different perspectives,” Anadol said.

“What if the AI ​​has an ethic not to see a human, but New York as a memory, to dream and hallucinate?” “

The intention, he said, was to provide an imaginative space for the often impenetrable and fun discussions about technology infrastructure and data. Tech companies have skated on the numbing effect of onerous explanations and the complexity assumption – the 100-page user agreements, the fine print that is somehow underestimated and overbearing at the same time, the services of automatic location, which cookies you must accept.

Installation of mechanical hallucinations for the Liberty project
Photography: Sasha Charoensub

“We are all tracked by systems, by hardware and software – what we eat, what we say, what we watch, where we go, what we read, all of this is defined by the algorithms around us. . So of course privacy is at stake, ”Anadol said. Machine Hallucinations is not so much opposed to the current digital landscape as to a better understanding of a public and open source future. “What can we learn better, memorize better, dream better? Says Anadol.

“We need a new civic architecture that responds to this and adapts to it [digital] world – a technological architecture that creates value for society, not one that extracts value from society, ”said McCourt.

Both described Project Liberty and Machine Hallucinations as an “optimistic” project, an apt word for both the belief in collective action to wrest power from the consolidators of the internet’s wild west and the sense of being. swallowed by chasmic music and bewitching colors. cavernous space of the installation.

“We, as humans, are the significance of this data, these numbers,” Anadol said. “It is in our hands to train these machines with our own dreams. Such dreams could be an open source infrastructure for data ownership, the aesthetic potential of AI, or simply a return to a public art space in which the familiar – echoes of an old screensaver, images of the city you live in – is redefined. .

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