Disobedient electronics

The theme for our second assignment was to create an object that exemplifies the ethos of disobedient electronics. I teamed up with Winnie Yoe and in our first discussion, we decided to make a few learning objectives for ourselves. Our initial list was: 1) Learn how to use ESP32 2) Learn how to fetch and display real time data 3) Use data to work with a mundane regular object that we see day to day.

Initially, we looked at the NYC open data sets and we found some interesting data around maternal health, mental health and the drug crisis. We were interested to use the data set for the opioid crisis but we realised that none of the datasets we had was not real-time and had no granularity beyond a district zone. Working with such large data-sets was proving to be challenging and we gave up on the approach.

During the discussion, we started talking about how mundane objects are basically fronts for corporations inside our homes in the name of ‘Smartness‘. That struck a chord and we refined the idea into a simple ‘smart‘bulb that is free to use but it won’t light up if the latest stock market price of the company was lower than the previous day. Going through stock market prices api, we found one which was easy to use but only gave daily stock prices. We wanted one which was hourly but in the interest of time, we went ahead with the one we found to build the proof of concept. We used the ESP32 HUZZAH to control the light bulb.

The final interaction was as follows: The bulb lights up if it detects the presence of the user and then checks for the stock price of the company (*cough* Facebook *cough*) and if the price of the company was lower, it starts blinking annoyingly. The user then has to mash the ‘like‘ button which leaves gratuitous comments on social media (not prototyped) and the bulb is ready for use again. You can watch the interaction in the video below.

I was quite happy about getting the APIs to work with the chip. I realise that there are conceptual gaps in our prototype but a lot of it was pared down in the interest of time. I believe that there is enough depth in the concept to take it further and I would like to see if I can do the same project in a more refined manner later.

Apology as a Service (AAAS)

For our first assignment for critical objects, I teamed up Winnie Yoe to work on a critical object. The shop was shut for the week and we started talking about how we should write an apology for not doing the assignment. This led us to a further discussion of how apologies are manufactured and it’s as if they are a formula.

We went down the rabbit-hole of digging up apologies from Kevin Spacey to facebook to Uber and many others and we came up with the formula as follows:

[Inspirational title] → [Demonstrate passion] → [Play the Victim] → [Feign innocence of events] → [Cautiously appreciate the victims] → [Ask for time]→ [Recognise role of company without any direct acceptance of wrong-doing]→ [Promise indeterminate actions in the future]→ [Promise that it won’t happen again]→ [salutations]→ [Actual signature].

While analysing the responses, we are realised that the formula also caters to institutional anxieties and are about protecting the organisation rather than the aggrieved ones. We came up with the idea of a service for CEOs in the future which is a voice driven interface for generating apologies. We name it Bernays after Edward Bernays, the father of modern PR quite extensively documented in The century of the self.

The hypothetical device sits on the desk of the CEO and talks to him/her about the current issue and uses advanced AI to understand the situation. It asks the CEO for ‘uncomputable‘ information which helps it create a more nuanced approach to a situation and generates an apology and a strategy for handling the situation.

You can scroll through the UI below. A sister post on the project can be found here.