On Friday, March 6, I participated in ASU’s Emerge 2015: Artists and Scientists Redesign the Future in Scottsdale, Arizona, by developing and deploying a “visitation from the future” titled You Have Been Inventoried. The experience of engaging approximately 1,000 people in the implications that arise when, in the (near) future, human beings will be fully tracked and profiled in the offline world was fascinating and enlightening.
The following interview I did with radio station KJZZ provides some insight on the point of the visitation:
However, it’s worth documenting it more fully.
You Have Been Inventoried was an interactive visitation that explored various new offline, real-world surveillance, tracking, and identification technologies and what these technologies might mean in terms of the future of human identity, privacy, choices, and values. In order to explore these issues, the visitation had four components: Taking Inventory, The Identity Theatre, The Larger Tracked Space, and Privacy Concerns.
Component 1: Taking Inventory
Willing visitors to the visitation were inventoried: a unique number and barcode was applied/assigned to their physical person by way of label. The labels were scanned, the people photographed, and the images added to the digital inventory database of the visitation. The photograph of each individual inventoried was run through a custom facial recognition application (built with EyeFace SDK from EyeDea Recognition, Inc.). The application tagged facial characteristics and generated an overlaid profile of estimated age, ethnicity, or other information. These profiled images were added to the multimedia display in The Identity Theatre over the course of the Emerge event.
Here is an example from the event (note her “I Have Been Inventoried” sticker):
We even inventoried a robot, a Baxter from the neighboring Ars Robotica visitation (note the barcode sticker on his torso):
The reaction of visitors to the inventorying process was fascinating. An unscientific estimate is that 2-3% refused or actively resisted the barcode label, asking about where the data would be stored, what would happen to it, etc. The vast majority of people, however, wanted to go through the process, and enjoyed it. Several noted that, in effect, “Hey, it’s true, we’re all inventory.”
Component 2: The Identity Theatre
In the Identity Theatre, which was a 10 x 10 x 10 foot cubic space, we presented a non-linear multimedia exploration of our current technologically enhanced environment in which digital surveillance, identification, and tracking systems intersect with human concerns for privacy, subjectivity/identity, and freedom of choice. Visitors were encouraged to enter the theatre, experience immersion in the multimedia, explore the idea of masks as identity expression/resistance by actually trying on various masks, reflecting upon their masked images in the mirrors, and enjoying the frisson of being recorded by security cameras all the while.
In the Identity Theatre, visual montages were developed by Eric Kingsbury and Tery Spataro. Here is Tery’s great montage:
Also in the Identity Theatre, we played original music composed and recorded by MiKroNaught (courtesy of AtmoWorks Music). The music incorporates the primary narrative of the installation, along with audio clips from Melanie Swan on the topic of the future of identity. The soundtrack to “You Have Been Inventoried” is available free for download from www.atmoworks.com. Click the image below to get the download:
In the Identity Theatre, visitors played (and walked away) with over 300 masks. The masks, incidentally, were a hit with children who took instantly to the idea of playing with their own image in the mirrors in the space. Generally, adults seemed to get the idea that, as they played, they were in a camera’s eyes:
Component 3: The Larger Tracked Space
After leaving the main area of the visitation, visitors to Emerge continued to participate in the visitation by virtue of being tracked by a network of Bluetooth Low-Energy beacons (from Gimbal/Qualcomm) placed throughout the larger event space, as well as a series of discretely placed cameras which captured the movement of inventoried humans through the event. In some instances, in camera footage, we were able to connect previously captured inventory data and facial recognition data to beacon and video capture data.
For the most part, all that we did was track movement of anyone with a bluetooth enabled cell phone, through six beacon zones in a geofence in the space. The data was only statistical numbers on people moving through zones, and this data was visualized in charts and added to the multimedia presentation in the Identity Theatre portion of the visitation toward the end of the event.
Component 4: Privacy Concerns
The point of the visitation was to raise awareness of key issues related to technology, identity, and privacy. In order to do so, we simulated in microcosm much of what is happening in our real world. For poignancy and verisimilitude, we were capturing data. However, throughout the course of the event, the data we captured did not contain any personally identifiable information, nor was it shared with any third parties, beyond the local visitation system itself. All visitor data captured was permanently destroyed at the conclusion of the event (March 7, 2015). Visitors could opt out of the data-capture component of the visitation by declining to be inventoried, which several did. The only images that were retained were images from the installation and ASU Emerge teams, such as the facial recognition image used in this post.
The privacy component of the installation was a big discussion point with people at the visitation, and it illustrated an open question for many of us at large: since we are generating data, and others are capturing it, what happens to it? How will it be used? How much control do we have?
As a final note, I would like to warmly thank my conceptual and executional collaborators for all their assistance and support. Thanks to AC, MiKroNaught, Dylan Kingsbury, Tery Spataro, and Melanie Swan. Awesome team. I would also like to thank Joel Garreau, Cyndi Coon, and everyone else at ASU Emerge for letting me play with them.