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We are being sold smart devices that outfit our homes with surveillance cameras, sensors, and automated control. We are meant to think this is about convenience and utility, but the space they invade is personal. The home is the place where we are first socialized, first watched over, first cared for. How does it feel to have this role assumed by artificial intelligence?
Lauren McCarthy, author
What if Amazon Alexa was a real human? This is the case in LAUREN, a “human intelligence” personal assistant operated by the media artist Lauren McCarthy.
By connecting a number of electronic sensors and objects to the internet – such as cameras, microphones, faucets, switches, and door locks – and installing them in the houses of the participants of the experience, Lauren becomes part of their daily lives. She watches, listens, talks to them using a synthesized voice, and reacts to the needs of the participants, from turning the lights on to playing music and heating up the water for the morning coffee. In doing so, she transforms this usually private space into a public performance where the participants become aware that they are being constantly watched. In a second iteration, she converted her house into a smart hostel where people spent the night while she controlled the space remotely from an art gallery in Amsterdam.
Reflecting on the intrusion of sensors in the intimate sphere of the (smart) house, Lauren renders visible the constant and silent surveillance and datafication of people’s lives by AI systems, questioning how socialization processes may be impacted in our culture of the “Internet of things”.
It is possible to explore some of the participant experiences with LAUREN on her website.