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ART Habens

Byron Rich

century. Only now the science has caught up with the fiction and the possibility of “ethical algorithms” has begun to be realized.

ultimately deciding that the discussion that would be possible by pandering to our hosts was ultimately interesting in and of itself, so APS in its current form was born. We programmed it to track skin color. At ISEA it was targeting people with lighter skin tones. I think the meaning is pretty obvious given the context.

We wanted to demonstrate how terrifying it is that amateurs, artists in this case, could develop a simple way to make judgment calls on individuals and perceive their threat level and systematically target them. We laid out sketch after sketch, settling on an aesthetic and scale. The final project was much smaller than what we envisioned, but I’ll touch on that in a minute.

The project was intended to kind of hit you over the head with its message, and give you room to find more nuance if you wanted to search it out. The piece became a terrifying game. People wanted to interact with it, and see how the piece “felt” about them. Some disappointed if it didn’t target them. I think the playful nature of it says much about the disconnect between physicality and immateriality that you mentioned. It brings video game sensibilities into the physical world, allowing people to play with it before realizing how terrifying it actually is that an autonomous system is, to a degree, making judgment calls on their lives. I think the play vs. terror duality is the strength of the piece.

I met Ian F. Thomas ( a few months later and told him about the idea. He seemed intrigued, and had a unique vision in how to actually accomplish it. He brought with him an immense knowledge of craft, and an enormous capability for refining the aesthetic into something that could be playful, but terrifying. Ian has a very unique perspective. His thoughts are dark and dystopian often, but tempered by a sense of play a wonder. His mind works like no one else I know. He’s a grown child with a deep understanding of geopolitics, and critical theory. Somehow he hasn’t been weighed down by this often heady knowledge, and it manifests in his work as playful, but often frightening contemplations on contemporary culture.

Also important to us was the idea that there always needs to be a designer of any kind of ethical algorithm, and that the programming is highly subjective. The fact that the device targets people seemingly autonomously doesn’t, in my opinion, relinquish the designer from responsibility, however my perception is that a lack of techno and media criticality manifests as a release from responsibility of action from the designer onto the machine. People really believe that the machine is its own entity, and that to us, is more than a bit frightening.

Alex and Ian really deserve much of the credit for the project. Both share a very unique filter for societal trends and translate them into unexpectedly playful forms with dark subtexts is really remarkable. If I had done this project alone I think it would have been too overt a gesture, imposing and generally quite bleak. Their fun-loving-in-the-face-of-terrible-odds personalities elevated the project.

We are working (slowly) on ideas for a new iteration that really ups the creepy factor. I’m not going to explain it yet, but hopefully it will happen soon.

We set out to build APS out of metal, and make it look as militarized as possible, while having a sense of playfulness. We were to present it at ISEA 2014 in Dubai, but then we started to get a series of emails trying to persuade us to limit the militaristic-vibe that we were going for to be more respectful of the culture in the UAE. We debated on whether we were sacrificing artistic integrity is we catered to their desires,

Summer 2015

It goes without saying that urging us to investigate about the liminal area between fiction and reality, Autonomous Player Simulation also offers a subtle but effective sociopolitical criticism about the way we understand the concept of violence in the unstable contemporary age and

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