Niels Bonde
Paying with your face. An artistic study of the technological and social aspects of facial recognition.

Disruption is the battle cry of new tech, and as facial recognition and analysis are developing at breakneck speed creating a legislative vacuüm, disruption may soon be the effect we encounter any time we show our faces. Automatic recognition of cows or salmon optimizes production but is it OK to use it in our health care system, and have a robot diagnose us with a genetic disease? As we show up at the ER with a black eye or the lighting is bad, will we trust that the system does not misidentify and misclassify us? That the software programming is not yet accurate and contains algorithmic race-specific prejudices, could be corrected with “better” data. But is that really enough? Facial recognition and the algorithms’ analysis of our faces go far beyond identification; in a range of applications determining how fat we are, categorize feelings, intentions, intelligence, choice of career, ethnicity, gender as well as guess our sexual orientation. Comprehensive facial recognition systems interwoven with a social credit system, which determines if you can travel and where to, which internet connection you have access to, and which schools you can attend, are already deployed in Shenzhen. Although the purposes of the practical applications, may not be as Orwellian as they sound, there are plenty of reasons to vet how far we should allow the implementation of facial recognition and analysis, as the technology seems to have no natural limitations.

Algorithmic facial analysis has developed beyond being dismissed as fanciful speculation. Before this type of system becomes ubiquitous, it is crucial that we – both decision-makers and citizens alike – have discussed the principles of this technology as widely as possible. But for that, we need to develop a language for how this technology works and affects us.

This language can be developed through art.

My artistic investigations of the technological and social aspects of facial recognition, take the form of installations, as a contribution to a much-needed public discourse on facial recognition. What is facial recognition? The nebulous theoretical will become specific, for critical analysis and discussion of the spreading of and use of facial recognition systems and it’s functions and effects on us.

In installations, I will construct images, both metaphorical as well as physically, of the patterns and themes that manifest themselves. In these works, it will be possible to observe the process and the comparisons, accumulations of information, the instruments and results all included, as experimental setups where the algorithms will collect the hard data.

Supervisor: Margarete Jahrmann

Tin Foil Helmet, Installation shot 2014.

Photo: David Stjernholm