Title: “We need to talk about the algorithms”
Found Object: Enter key from an old keyboard
British Museum Object: Japanese bronze bells 200BC
Handbuilt stoneware, coloured slip, monoprinting.
“Imagine a nuclear power station built near a town and the residents told it’s their responsibility to protect themselves from potential harm”.
Imagine TV stations free to broadcast adult content, without any restrictions and parents told it’s their responsibility to monitor their child.
Imagine foreign governments free to come in and carry out huge operations to influence or attack another country without ever being identified.
You don’t have to imagine. This is already happening today, in cyberspace.
Powerful, unregulated technology giants create tools and digital networks that can do anything from replacing parts of a human body to silently attacking another country from thousands of miles away.
They created algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves. They can predict and influence our behaviour, mental state, every day decisions. They infiltrate the very fabric of our societies, from politics, race relations, environmental policies, education to democratic processes. Using confirmation bias, echo chambers and filter bubbles, they are polarising individuals and societies by amplifying inflammatory content.
The algorithms sneaked into our lives, anywhere from applying for college or a loan, a job interview, employee performance, sentencing offenders. “They are used to predict our trustworthiness and calculate our potential as students, workers, lovers, criminals”.
The Japanese bronze bells are just one of so many pieces of evidence that from the dawn of humanity we moved around searching for better places to live. We shared and exchanged skills. And we fought wars.
For centuries we have been limited to what we can do, physically and geographically. How far and how quick we could travel, communicate. How many swords we could manufacture.
Today none of these barriers apply. With one click of a button you can learn Chinese calligraphy, hear children singing in Zimbabwe, or see the North Pole.
And yet, the same advances of technology allowed humans to become more and more sophisticated at conflict and warfare.
What can today’s found object tell the people of tomorrow about us?
That after thousands of years and the incredible achievements, we are still fighting and killing another human over the same things: land, resources, religion, national identity. We just improved the ways we do it.
We use our technology for that very same purpose that first humans used their stone tools. And in that sense, we have not really gone that far.
“Alarm bells are ringing” aims to highlight how in the last 30 years the digital networks silently took over and transformed our lives and the need for societies and lawmakers to urgently review their intended and unintended consequences.