CultTech Media

Compliant or Dissident?

AI was watching the CultTech Association (CTA) journalist Pavel Yablonsky at Ars Electronica festival, where he talked with Karen Palmer, storyteller from the future, award-winning international artist and TED Speaker, about her work named Consensus Gentium (Agreement of the People).
CultTech Association: What is the idea behind Consensus Gentium?

Karen Palmer: I create films that watch you back using artificial intelligence and facial recognition. They enable people to experience their future reality. So my work is really about making people aware of the societal implications of their actions by experiencing their consequences in the future.

CTA: I was actually quite shocked watching the work. It was like immersing into this dystopian society; it reminded me of «The Matrix», you know when you have to resist technology in a way.

KP: Well, A.I. means the tasks that were normally done by humans, which are now automated, done by machines, but someone has to train the computer with algorithms to do that. And what happens is that it takes on the kind of biases of the developer doing the training. So what happens is that the systems become inherently biased. There have been multiple examples of bias against women, minorities, and people of colour. Just because of the way these systems are developed. So it seems one of the main issues is that people see A.I. as a universal robotic thing, which is always right, but it's actually based on the same biases that humans have because humans have to create the algorithms.
CTA: I was wondering: in this film, there are a lot of parkour scenes. What's the link to that?

KP: It seems to me that they kind of symbolize freedom, the feeling of freedom. I myself have been a free runner, a parkour practitioner, for maybe 15 years now. When people think of parkour, they think of this urban inner city sport. But for me, parkour is about moving through fear, navigating through fear and an understanding of self. So I use parkour as a metaphor to be able to move through fear and have this sense of agency and autonomy in the world in which we live. So in this film, we use the narrative branches depending on your eye gaze and so you get the consequences of the future depending on the decisions you make. And I want people to be aware of the fact that we are not passive in building our future, that the future is not something that happens to us. It's something which we create together. If you are doing a parkour jump, but you are being distracted by notifications, it's teaching you to be more focused cognitively through your brain because it's kind of saying that there are so many distractions in the world. If we can be more focused and there'll be more access, our critical thinking will be more independent minded.

CTA: It's a very deep message. I think even the very mechanism, how this works, can serve as a sort of an exercise for the people that are being distracted by Instagram.

KP: Yeah. I do a lot of research work in psychology and in my opinion the gyms of the future won't be a gym of the body, but rather a gym of the mind. Like, I won't be compliant, I won't be compliant. And then you're like, “Yeah, I like this ending”! And then, when you go into the world, you'll be like "Yeah, I feel I'm going to be compliant today" or "I'm going to be dissident", but it makes you more self-aware of your agency, and the implications of your actions or acquiescence and the consequences to that, not just in the film, but in your life.