Science fiction won’t be fiction much longer.

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“A central concern of British Art Show 8 is the changing role and status of the physical object in an increasingly digital age”. British Art Show 8

I visited Leeds recently and attended the Leeds Art Gallery to see British Art Show 8. If you’re planning a trip to Leeds the exhibition will be at the Gallery until January 2016. There were lots of thought provoking exhibits but I will focus on two in particular.

 

Implanted Technology

Melanie Gilligan, The Common Sense

“Technologies inevitably change us—our attitudes, our social relationships and the ways we use our capacities.” – Melanie Gilligan British Art Show 8

Melanie’s video work, The Common Sense, consists of 5-6 minute serial dramas set in a fictional future world where humans wear a product called the ‘patch’. The videos were displayed on a metal frame at different levels and viewing angles. Each screen had an infrared sensor that when approached wearing the headphones would turn on and stop automatically. It was uncomfortable viewing, literally, as you had to stand very still and the viewing angles were deliberately uncomfortable.

Watch episode on Vimeo here.

The patch allows humans to communicate telepathically and read each other’s emotional states. Naturally the drama was dystopian. People are forced to wear the patch, it invades their personal lives and human interaction is reduced to communication solely through the patch. Lack of adoption is seen as backward and Luddite.

This is nothing ‘new’. Look at any film regarding humans and technology. I can think of very few that aren’t dystopian. See Jonny Mnemonic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Inception, Transcendence…I could go on.

Interestingly some of the episodes were set in a university environment in which students performed work tasks, given by external companies, to pay their tuition fees. Is this the future of education funding? We shall see…

 

Everyday Objects as Surveillance

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, A Convention of Tiny Movements

“…we are in an age where we become sworn-in the minute we accept the terms and conditions of a particular communications software or email provider.” – Lawrence Abu Hamdan British Art Show 8

Lawrence’s work, A Convention of Tiny Movements, concentrated on “how technological developments have altered the conditions in which people are heard in legal and political contexts”. His work, a tissue box used as an amplifier, accompanied an image of a supermarket which highlighted all of the objects that could be used as listening devices.

Watch an interview with Lawrence about his previous work Tape Echo.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered they could reconstruct sound from a video of an object. As sound hits an object, vibrations invisible to our eyes are created, the vibrations are then used to recreate the sound. The Guardian has a great article on the work “How an empty crisp packet can be used to eavesdrop on conversations”.

The face of things to come…

 

Misconceptions

It was really enlightening to have a conversation with a member of the gallery staff. When you are so embedded in the world of technology it’s easy to lose sight of what the rest of the world thinks.

The thing that startled me most about our conversation was her surprise. I had approached both works with a “yup that’s nothing new” attitude whereas she was genuinely surprised that these things are possible. I’ve had a lot of these conversations recently; I don’t pretend to be an expert, where I have debunked people’s misconceptions around safety and privacy in a digital world. For example, given the recent hack of TalkTalk, someone told me they would pay their bills in cash forgetting that although their bank details won’t be being recorded electronically all their other private information will still be being stored online somewhere. I remember telling someone that I could find out their date of birth and where they lived with just a few clicks. I could go on…

I didn’t want to terrify her further by telling her what is already possible and happening. That high level, intrusive surveillance is within our current capabilities and implanted technology is just around the corner. Science fiction won’t be fiction much longer.

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