Spectre, a new interactive installation by Bill Posters and Daniel Howe, reveals the secrets of the Digital Influence Industry in a cautionary tale of technology, democracy and society, curated by algorithms and powered by visitors’ data. Premiering at the Sheffield Doc/Fest Alternate Realities exhibition, Spectre leverages the technologies and techniques of the tech giants, advertising firms, and political campaign groups to show how our behaviours are being predicted, influenced and controlled.
Revived as ‘deep fake’ avatars, in both the literal and spiritual senses, celebrities including Marcel Duchamp, Mark Zuckerberg, Kim Kardashian, Freddy Mercury and more, engage audiences in the affective power of computational propaganda, where notions of truth and free will are not to be relied upon.
The Digital Influence Industry is a burgeoning and largely unregulated sector. Since 2010, political parties and governments have spent nearly a billion dollars on the research, development and implementation of psychological operations and opinion manipulation techniques that involve social media. In many countries divisive social media campaigns have heightened ethnic tensions, revived nationalistic movements, intensified political conflict, and even resulted in political crises, while simultaneously weakening public trust in journalism, democratic institutions, and electoral outcomes.
As Howe says, “In recent years the world has learned of the dangerous new forms of computational propaganda currently employed by social media platforms, the ad industry, and political consultancies like Cambridge Analytica. In Spectre we used many of the same techniques – data analytics, behavioural profiling, sentiment analysis, deep-learning – to enable audiences to experience the inner workings of this secret digital influence industry. We wanted users to feel what is at stake when the data taken from us in countless everyday actions is used in unexpected and dangerous ways.”
Posters continues: “The fact that citizen data – including intimate knowledge on political leanings, sexuality, psychological traits and personality – are made available to the highest bidder shows that the digital influence industry and its associated architectures pose a risk not only to individual human rights but to our democracies at large... History has demonstrated that we can’t have democracy without privacy.”
Dr. Ben-Ami, co-founder of CannyAI, says: “We are excited to collaborate on Spectre in exploring the influence Artificial Intelligence will have on our society. We hope to reveal to audiences what can already be achieved today, and give a glimpse into how AI will change everything we know about storytelling, content creation, and human interaction.”
Vesselin Popov, Executive Director of the Cambridge Psychometrics Centre says: “It has never been more important to engage in open debate regarding the malign impact of AI, social media and big tech on democracy; projects like Spectre can provide tremendous value in engaging and surprising new audiences, creating an imperative for self-reflection and a manifesto for the kind of authenticity or integrity that is so often lacking from our political institutions.”
Spectre was the winner of the Sheffield Doc/Fest ‘Alternate Realities’ commission for 2019, and was first exhibited at Site Gallery in early June. Spectre was nominated for ‘Best Digital Experience’ award as part of the Sheffield Doc/Fest programme.
The Spectre installation is generously supported by Arts Council England, British Council, Site Gallery, MUTEK and Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Daniel Howe(US/HK) is an artist, researcher, and critical technologist whose work focuses on the interrelationships between networks, language, and politics. His collaborative practice explores the nature of algorithms and their impact on human values like autonomy, diversity, privacy and freedom. Howe is an open-source advocate and contributor to dozens of socially- engaged software projects over the past two decades. He currently lives in Hong Kong and can be reached at https://rednoise.org/daniel .
Bill Posters(UK) is an artist-researcher whose work interrogates propaganda and its impact on notions of justice, democracy, privacy & environment. He is co-founder of Brandalism, an international collective of artists that are best known for receiving global media coverage for hacking over 600 ad spaces in Paris in 2015, the day before the COP21 Climate Talks began with artworks that challenged corporate power and lack of government action on climate change. In 2016, Bill Posters received Communications Sans Frontiers’ ‘Activist of the Year’ award.