The talk given at Thirteen23 on July 28, 2016.
I want to make a prediction, and time-stamp it with my squarespace blog right here. The amount of data gathered about each one of us is going to be staggering, it kindof already is. But....rather than creepy surveillance to simply present more desirable products to us or conveniently anticipate our up-to-the moment need "OK google!", "Alexa buy me more batteries!". It's going to be surprisingly good. It's going to be I-cannot-imagine-living-without-it good. And this will come soon, within 5 years soon.
I'm not discounting the NSA and global surveillance of individuals under the guise of tracking terrorist activity, and then hanging onto all that metadata for future dissection. That is a problem.
I'm talking about all the micro-activities that make up our day. Who did you talk to, meet with, where did you go, what did you spend, eat, do, sleep, speak, breathe....and oh, how's your microbiome doing? Recording facial micro-expressions from your web or device camera picks up like a little bit of stress, how's your cortisol level? Is your immune system getting hammered? Brain fog, what's slowing you down? Yeah, yeah...you've got your entire genome sequenced, but we know the expression of those genes (epigenetics) and the affect of your day-to-day environment and lifestyle (the stuff you do to yourself) means as much as the DNA you started with.
The surprise is that it will be easy. It will start with how people affect us. Are they toxic or a vitamin?
I predict we will casually use the data we know about us and the people around us to manipulate our body chemistry. The surprise is that it will be easy. It will start with how people affect us. The people we know and our connections will become like diet and exercise, we'll understand them in the way we know what makes up a balanced meal.
Human chemistry feels complicated, but the intricacies of relationships are ripe for machine learning. How do you feel about this person, how do they feel about you. How does their personality map to yours, what is the nature of the relationship, a lover, friend, family, co-worker ....everyone you deal with, worry about or have ever encountered. A great deal of human interaction can be patterned and captured in a very large AI system. It's coming.
You can tell it's beginning cause academic studies are verifying chunks of this idea. Your digital footprint is more accurate predicting your Big 5 personality assessment than your friends (sample size 86,000+), unsupervised machine learning using fictional relationships from literature and much of the work from Sandy Pentland and his graduate students at MIT.... here is just one characterizing reciprocity of friendship.
....as humans will we prefer the randomness and human intuition of assessing relationships?
If you're convinced we are ontrack to know a ton about relationships, and we will surely characterize it with models, network mathematics and even prediction algorithms. So much is known today, it's just not known by us as regular people. How might we consume perfect information about all the people we encounter. As humans will we prefer the randomness and human intuition of assessing relationships or will the machines do it for us?
We are social creatures, since pre-historic time we have been assessing who is a friend and who is an enemy, the champions of this have genetically survived better than humans who were bad at reading people. Our brain's default activity is mulling over our relationships. Rehashing our social lives is the brain's favorite downtime activity. Maybe we don't need any help, we got this one. But....
We are beginning to see many, many apps that are chipping away at the potential to know a whole lot more about the people who shape us, who we can rely on, what is their bias, their priority, will they reciprocate? Not just what you can find when you google or track someone down on Linkedin. CrystalKnows will help you craft better communication, Shapr will introduce me to people Tinder fashion who share my ideas, and emotion recognition like Affectiva is getting embedded in the apps and games we love.
We already use social networks like a life-long rolodex, the obsessive of us 'curate' our feed by specifying who is a close friend, who we keep an eye on and who we hide or unfollow. What we will come to know is how people shape us, right down to the methalaytion of our DNA and direct effect on our mood and stress. We don't need everyone we meet to be super-sweet, I bet the right formula is a mix of slightly acidic questioning people who make us think and others who act like a vitamin boost. Every now and then you need to meet one of those "I-learned-a-lesson" people. Maybe after a few generations, we'll document mathematical patterns for the right relationship-mix during adolescence and another type to shape us as early adults.
But know that proper dosage of our friends will get served up to us in easy-to-consume social networks. Who we encounter may not be so random. Remember when facebook let you remove all traces of your ex? I bet we'll be able to grab the mix of people we hang out with like a shopping cart of kale and grilled salmon.
I'm kindof excited about this, everytime I'm completely flummoxed by mis-reading someone or not understanding why I didn't get an email returned, I think....in the future I'll understand it all.
I make work about data. Personal data gathered about you. The stuff we hardly notice, where we go, what we eat, how much we sleep, who we talk to, click on, write, what causes us stress and how we feel. Imagine a time when everything about our behavior and body is tracked, measured and known. EVERYTHING. Lately, I’ve shifted to how all this data will drive predictions and anticipate much about us. In the same way an artist follows mental rules and decisions for producing work, machine learning software will eventually produce algorithms that make art.
We know AI robots are writing blog posts and impersonating humans as chat bots. Futurists predict the end of many white-collar jobs. Should we worry? PhD students write art algorithms that recreate paintings, computers learn to create new photographs of faces or scenes with no camera or image knitting involved.
What if art made itself? The art version of a self-driving car. Imagine art in the future, will there be ‘real’ art and robot art? What happens when we move beyond pixels on glass and automate tangible data in the physical world? Mural walls that grow and recycle? Will people be less fearful if extreme insights from personal data are produced as textured pattern that look organic and colorful? Can we try out the future with a little experimentation today?
“Why couldn’t everyone have abstract patterns of their personal data fill their walls” Perhaps seeing the abstract patterns and rhythms of your self-tracking data is a short-cut to mindfulness. A quick and dirty way to boost your immune system, the benefits of meditation and self-reflection without much effort. Originally I imagined laser and 3D printing technology delivering physical tangible hand-made patterns directly to walls without the cost or intervention of an art gallery or even the artist. But I'm now captivated by bio-fabrication.
I think I found what might turn out to be an easier way....to fill the textured walls of your future 'tiny' apartment. GROW IT! Microbial cellulose that can form shapes and pattern, with little bits of color....and then when it gets wet, it RECYCLES. It's the perfect minimalist art-making material that is both physical and ephemeral. In 6 minutes Suzanne Lee shows what is possible. Very simply, we will grow our own art!
Made you curious??? Here are a whole bunch of projects in the bio-fabricate world, updated and pulled together by Biofabricate.co....just click!
I knew I had to move on from my wordpress site when I read a few months back that google downgraded search results if your site was not 'mobile-responsive'. Ugh. After buying a couple of new wordpress themes and trying to pull off a simple upgrade, I bit the bullet and opened a trial account at Squarespace. I used them to build my FRICKbits site, so I knew what I had in store, yeah, yeah, yeah...it's easy, but not really. You have to change your mindset and work within narrow parameters. First I spent hours combing thru the templates. If anyone wants to have a drink and talk endlessly about the different options and tradeoffs...I'm game. There is a wonderful comparison chart from a woman who is up there with Mother Theresa in my view.
Then you begin the task of locating ALL your images in the original format to resize them, cause screens got larger and bandwidth faster. Now you really need to be 1500 px wide. Husband Mark said I kept tapping my feet about every 15 seconds as I worked on this for hours (and hours), anxiety ...ya think? Looking at images of your work, color correcting, photoshopping out electric plugs and cleaning up everysingle one is like working on photographs of your face. All you see are the problems.
The big turning point came when I exported well over 5 years of blog posts and I think it all moved over flawlessly, but in reality I only looked at a couple pages. No tags, ah well.
Work looks better if you edit it down, so I decided to toss a bunch of images. Seriously a bunch. Was like cleaning out my clothes closet, I got rid of lots, noone will ever miss them. I used to think I had to put lots of work up....like a shotgun blast, maybe it will hit a wider mark. Again, worked on this for a couple more days, it even made my stomach hurt a little. And if you go look, I doubt you'll notice what's gone. Then I decided not to worry about individual descriptions of materials and size....pswhew, who really cares?
Yesterday I moved all the DNS servers over to squarespace and it's slowly propagating across the net. And jeez, that system is still in the original arcane language of the web, CNAME-whaaat? Now I'll fiddle for a week or so, and start to push it out in the world, if you stumble upon this...you'll know what I've been up to.
Lots of long-standing businesses have been disrupted in the past decade, you can quickly tick off several on your fingers right now. Music publishing from online digital downloads, vacations from the reputation economy ala Airbnb, finding an address or anything for that matter via google maps. Uber, full stop. I forced myself to stop at 3+1. But, you get the notion of disruption, it's all anyone in the tech world or venture funding business talks about.
I think the disruption of the art-world from technology will not happen cause we digitally reproduce prints, create artist portfolio sites online, or even buy objects from artists directly in the manner of ebooks or music. I think it will be disrupted because art production will become an algorithm. Art making is really a set of rules for combining images, shapes, pattern, rhythm -- and a set of processes for spitting out physical objects. I see a time when the art-world is democratized, by inexpensive to produce art objects that are beautiful, personalized and made just for you. With easy to recycle materials that you don't worry about storing or moving...you have them for a while and swap them out for something different without thinking -- poof from a pandora-like subscription service.
Noooooooo you think, what about Van Gogh or Warhol, those are art objects of enormous value...how could the art market be transformed by something like a smart robot? Well, you can see the beginning -- artificial intelligence software writes sports stories and financial updates, news services are quietly using 'robots' to pump out posts, update twitter and feed the beast of hourly reporting. The rules for writing are in fact an algorithm that can spit out intelligible output. Same can be true for art.
In the case of art, it ceases to simply be an object of admiration or decoration. Art can become personal, like the work I make...self-tracking data turned into pattern as data portraits. Your sleep, time-use, mood, travel patterns, food intake, bio-markers -- the data that describes your unconscious behavior, that makes-you-you can be turned into art. And here is the kicker that makes it addictive, these textured patterns pulled from your seamlessly collected human data feed your emotional need for a connection to the self.
Your brain can't tell the difference from meditative self-reflection or the intake of a personal data-selfie. It just knows that it's feeding the human-loop that you require to feel grounded, mindful, alive. Research will show having these images around you more than 4 hours a day will boost your immune system, and what-the-hell, 3D printed textures are nice on the empty walls of your apartment. Art will circle back to something everyone lives with easily, it's not the rarefied stuff stashed away in museums. Art becomes the way you consume data and updates about yourself.
So abstract art is not your thing. The algorithm can be dialed to landscapes, interiors or portraits with the look of high realism, spray-paint graffiti or extra painterly texture -- just tick the options. Disruption will come when technology makes art meaningful to you personally, it reflects your personal data, is cheap, recyclable and ultimately makes you feel better.
The mood about data has shifted, an article in the Atlantic written by Jacoba Urist published yesterday, signals the change. Personal data has been something to hide, to fear and worry over privacy...but now it's viewed as a commodity, fodder for art making. Location, steps, heart-rate, spending, clicks, likes are the medium, the material for art. To me, it feels like the world is catching up. Data has become the new medium for art makers. If art reflects the times, the way data artists are responding and using data gives us a clue how this moment of personal data invasion will be seen in ten or twenty years. Watching what artists do now will let us see the future. And the future of data is positive, I absolutely think it will be the source of self-knowing. As Jacoba writes, a high-resolution view into yourself.
Excerpts from the incredibly well argued and written article from Jacoba Urist.
"A number of artists, scholars, and curators also believe that working with this data isn’t just a matter of reducing human beings to numbers, but also of achieving greater awareness of complex matters in a modern world. Art confronts the uncertainty of human existence: Why am I alive? What makes me different from anybody else?Handprints made some 40,000 years ago, are a common feature of Upper Paleolithic cave art—a kind of prehistoric selfie. National Geographic describes the early artists as sending a timeless message: “Like you, I am human. I am alive. I was here.”
So it’s unsurprising that many data artists are responding to an increasingly data-saturated culture. After all, almost every human interaction with digital technology now generates a data point—each credit-card swipe, text, and Uber ride traces a person’s movements throughout the day. The smartphone, as The Economistrecently described, is a true personal computer, the defining innovation of the era, on par with the mechanical clock or the automobile in past centuries."
“Have you ever thought about how much is known about you?” Frick asked in one of our conversations. Not what pops up in Google or on social media, she clarified, but what companies know about your character. If you have a Kindle, Amazon knows how fast you finish a book, and whether you’re a cheater and skip chapters or read the ending first. Netflix knows whether you’re a binge watcher. E-ZPass knows where you go, even on local streets. Frick understands that this type of data collection can cause discomfort. Few of us like the idea that the government or Google is watching our every move. As a data artist, however, she sees her role as convincing people to want more personal data—regardless of who’s tracking.
“In all of these patterns, I do think there is an essential idea of who we are,” Frick said. Data art can’t capture the essence or totality of somebody—if either exists—any more than a handprint on a cave wall can. But she believes personalized data art can accomplish something traditional art forms can’t: It allows a viewer to see her nuances and idiosyncrasies in higher resolution—and to discover things she may have forgotten about herself or perhaps has never known. “I think people are at a point where they are sick of worrying about who is or isn’t tracking their data,” said Frick. “I say, run toward the data. Take your data back and turn it into something meaningful.” To prove her point, she’s developed a free app, Frickbits, which allows anyone to “create the ultimate data-selfie,” by turning personal data into personalized art.
"Yet the question remains whether data art can endure as much as a simple, striking handprint on a cave wall. On the one hand, data art may just be a link in a chain of artists who record and display their personal movements— some of whom will be displayed at the world’s leading museums decades from now, some who will fall by the wayside. On the other, data art may be the apogee of self-expression—a digital fingerprint that says more about modern man, and the inevitable forward march of time, than anything artists have been able to produce before."
What does all our personal data add up to? Is it a boon to big data marketers helping companies mine your personal data or just a nightmare scenario for complete loss of privacy? As an artist who grew up in the tech industry and loves technology, I have thought about a future where personal data could become meaningful. Maybe all this vaguely unpleasant surveillance and data gathering about us could turn into a surprisingly insightful view of ourselves and be delivered in ways that will be irresistible. In the future I imagine human data portraits manifested from reams of personal tracking data gathered invisibly as we move thru the day. Genuine data-selfies. We are so close to gathering every possible morsel of data about us, imagine what could be possible once you owned every bit of data gathered about you. After some thought, I decided it’s more than just seeing personal data and abstract patterns of you. It’s about what these patterns will tell us about ourselves. Data collected about us will unfold a personal narrative and story to reveal a hidden part of us we are trained to ignore, a way to know ourselves and anticipate what comes next. Perhaps seeing the abstract patterns and rhythms of your self-tracking data is a short-cut to mindfulness. A quick and dirty way to boost your immune system, the benefits of meditation and self-reflection without much effort.
We describe self-tracking in Calvinist utilitarian terms using fitness and health examples, the real fuel will be the desire to understand ourselves. While social-media, Twitter and Facebook tapped into the basic emotional desire for bonding and connection to other people, the personal data phenomenon will tap into the basic emotional desire to know ourselves. To see yourself, the part of you that’s invisible to you. To understand and anticipate. Who am I?