A few recent articles about neuro- and cognitive science and last month’s GenSpace Talk have sparked my curiosity about the dual capacity of sensor networks to empower a sentient cityscape and to enable biometric surveillance. The forming being a rather rad consequence of a more digitally developed infrastructure, the latter being the horror storythat hangs on our most distopic scifi futures. So what is the balance when dealing with art and code? How do we manage the development of new technologies which allow us hyper-personal transactions at the expense of anonymity?
According to an article in Science Daily, researchers at Cornell have started to used fMRI scans to predict not just how a person is processing information and in what neurological buckets the activity is dominant, but even who a person is thinking about. Not to be outdone, MIT recently went public with some MatLab code that uses and Eulerian algo to amplify pixels and detect pulse and subcutaneous activity from video files. Meanwhile, what about the prophesied Google Glass and it’s potential to kickstart ‘surveillance’ as a cinema sub-genre? In all cases, we have new windows to our own biology viasecond-hand technological captures. While primarily scientific, these developments have implications for imaging outside of the scientific realm; what new visual art projects might also be augmented by these processing scripts? How will bioart pick up the scientific slack and use open sourced code to develop critical artscience?
When challenged to hack away and build something in the theme of GodMode for 319 Scholes’ Art Hack Day in Brooklyn this weekend, a few of us decided to tackle biometrics andsurveillance with a spoof film, garnering a bit of nerdfamery and some cool coverage along the way (Creator’s Project | Fast.co). Our project, DIY Spoofing for DNA Counter-surveillance, was shot, edited and exhibited in a slurried 36 hour sprint, adapted some Gattaca-like insecurities about the trajectory of genetic surveillance. Check out the project here, and browse the vimeo links to research participant hackers and our other press pages. The whole experience of hacker/artist immersion was infectiously inspiring and full of smart kids in fancy kicks #godmode. In the open source spirit, we submitted the video as a set of DIY protips on how to blend your DNA with that of a friend, then shed both samples in simultaneity, to scramble surveillance readings. However fun and simple our execution, the themes of human tracking
via biometric analysis and the role of the post-modern bioartist in critically questioning this tracking were clear. We were all amateurs in many ways, but the ubiquity of sensingtechnologies and send-away DNA analysis services in our modern cities points to the validity of our concept. How might a project likethis scale beyond a weekend hackathon and a posting on Instructables? How might these themes persist as they propagate in our cities?
Case in point, this week’s submissions to the NYC Reinvent Payphones project solicited several proposals for more “aware” telephone technologies. My company was asked to develop ways to augment underutilized street furniture and part of this process involved an impressive network of sensing technologies to permit data collection and a more personalized and locally sensitive experience. The implication was the soon these ‘augmented’ booths might permit not only private phone calls but intimate and hyper-personalized transactions, automating and diffusing the pressure of city services such as polling and election activities, postal services, and the DMV. Oh my.
Please vote for our video here so that we can transform the NYC payphones!
But what if authentication becomes biometric? Is that fair? Do we want all of our identification to be linked to our biology? If someone spoofs our biological identity rather than spoofing surveillance, are we comfortable with allowing them access to our civic, political, and personal lives? Probably not, but we probably will be soon enough. Doubtless that many people will opt to log in with their default bio-credentials when possible, forgetting that these features, once hacked, cannot be scrambled or reissued, md5 hashed and emailed again to our ‘private’ accounts in the physical world as they can in the digital. Moral of the story? Keep tabs on your preference settings, keep your friends swap/spoof close, and your privacy radar closer.