Fredrik Garneij, Samantha Hookway and Christofer Kanljung
In today’s digital capitalism, technology constitutes the very core of our society and our lives. The logic of the market rules and tech companies gather our information online and sell it to the highest bidder, whether the government or a retailer, regardless of the implicit ethical aspects in doing so. Theorist Shoshana Zugoff argues, that rather than liberating us, so far digital technologies have deepened the existing inequality of the world. The complexity of this new order, where there isn’t one totalitarian state that gains from control over its people, but a large number of omnipresent corporations operating in the interests of the surveillance capitalism, Zugoff refers to as the Big Other as opposed to the Big Brother.
The social control enabled by the collection of data that we all hand over to tech companies every time we use our phone, share images of ourselves, friends and family in social media, download apps and agree to licenses (which most of us never even bother to read), is impossible to grasp. What might be even scarier is how this information is used to train Artificial Intelligence for numerous reasons, one being the facial recognition systems often used in the name of security. In particular, the bias embedded in these programs, where the accuracy, called confidence score, favours light-skinned men over women and people of colour.
The many ethical and legal implications in digital technology urgently need to be addressed in the interest of the people. It is easy to fall into an all dystopian view of digital technology altogether when analyzing the use of data and infiltration in our lives. But, is it really fair to blame the technology? Isn’t rather the societal system behind it that allows for technology to be (mis)used that should be thoroughly examined? We mustn’t forget that it is us, the human beings, training Artificial Intelligence to do what we ask it to do.
Rob Law is the first in a two-part exhibition series examining power and manipulations in digital capitalism. What are the potentials of art in this context? How can artists mediate new digital technology whilst simultaneously challenge the existing misuse of the same?
In recent years Studio Alight has explored the crossroads of the arts, the law , and the technological potential that both forms and misinforms our society. The work aims to explore data mining, to map power structures, to visualize the law, to mitigate cognitive biases, and to expose the relationship possibilities between Artificial Intelligence and the governing bodies that create our society. The works in the exhibition – Space of Law, [Self] Confidence and Prior Art Automaton – act not only to visualize the power structures but also aim to find ways to democratize and access the law.
Space of Law
Space of Law is a visualisation of the connections between the paragraphs of the law of Sweden. It provides an understanding of these connections between the lines that fill the law books and is an experience that alights the gravity of the connections between the paragraphs. When navigating inside the law of Sweden the audience is enabled to navigate their own way through the paragraphs and exposes the complexity in its construction. The bodily experience of this artwork indicates the potential of aesthetics displacing subjective positions and previous understandings. While the online version enables the positioning to flip from those who have studied and those who can afford, to a position whereas, the users – or citizens – can unmask the coded paragraphs and begin to see these classifications as being more than just the ignorable fine print.
*Space of Law was created by Studio Alight in collaboration with Alexander Wingård
[Self] Confidence reveals an experience where the viewer uniquely feels the tension between the dangers of been seen and the dangers of not being seen. Zugoff argues that the goal of the surveillance capitalist is to change us. This entails that what is at stake is our agency in how we behave, how we choose, how we connect, how we vote… they capitalize on our experiences. This is a far cry from the exploitation of our labor. [Self] Confidence tells us, in confidence, what it has seen. And thus, gives the viewer the power to reflect with an individualized, and even an emotional, response to the limitations of the systems that surveil us.
Prior Art Automaton
Prior Art Automaton was initially exhibited as drawings in the Dutch Pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2018 and produced by ICIA. For the Rob Law exhibition, Studio Alight has turned this conceptual idea into a large-scale sculptural installation. The work questions the fundamental principles around corporate utilization of intellectual property.
In most systems of patent law, prior art is constituted by all information that has been made available to the public in any form before a given date that might be relevant to a patent’s claim of originality. An automaton is a self-operating machine designed to automatically follow a predetermined sequence of operations, or respond to predetermined instructions. In Prior Art Automaton, Studio Alight has used Artificial Intelligence in the form of machine learning algorithms that trains a recursive neural network.
The Automaton generates and prints new and unique patent texts, and thus, creates novelty – or prior art – at a pace unachievable by humans. The automaton takes away the possibility to have patents that can be used in infringement. The availability of this prior art protects smaller companies or individuals because they no longer need to compete with large global corporations in the system, a competition that would normally be experienced as that of David and Goliath. This is the end of patents as we know it.
Aesthetics of Law
Since 2015, ICIA has invited artists to examine various perspectives of the Aesthetics of Law. This overall thematic has aimed at investigating the modernity and its organisation of people through laws, norms , and aesthetics. The rise of modernity; the enlightenment and colonialism by the end of 18th century and its view on humanity, sorting of classes and races and its simultaneous proclamation on human rights have been explored in relation to contemporary society.
The Rob Law exhibition examines the aesthetics of law by literally entering the world of law using artistic strategies to challenge it. [Self] Confidence is a new work that highlights the bias embedded in image recognition systems, and speaks directly to us individually, even as it surveils us. Space of Law makes the law accessible through the aesthetics. Prior Art Automaton uses the aesthetic space – the art exhibition – to democratize the patent law by making ideas public thus enabling small companies or individuals to claim agency over today’s patent system. With the Rob Law exhibition, Studio Alight robs the law by exposing the explicit power the system holds over our lives, and does so, by creating automated robotic lawyers that can give back the power to the people.
Charlotta Kronblad is a lawyer and researcher of the digitalization of the law at Chalmers. She has been invited to write a text on Space of Law and to lead an artist talk at the opening night August 30.
Opening August 30
18 Artist talk with Charlotta Kronblad
The exhibition is realized with the support by Swedish Arts Council, The Nordic Culture Fond, Västra Götalandsregionens Culture and Göteborg City Culture