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LAUREN – Smart (human) intelligence for the home

Created by Lauren McCarthy, “LAUREN” is an online experiment where the artist attempts to become a human version of Amazon Alexa, the intelligent personal home assistant. The project will take place as a three-day online performance that begins with the installation of a series of custom networked smart devices (including cameras, microphones, switches, door locks, faucets, and other electronic devices) in peoples’ homes.

Following the installation, Lauren will remotely watch over the participants 24/7 for three days, using the installed cameras and sensors. Participants will be able to direct her via voice command, just as you would with Siri or Alexa. However, because she is human, she can also anticipate their needs and learn to accommodate their desires. She will control their home remotely using the installed networked devices.

Lauren hopes for a relationship to emerge that falls in the ambiguous space between human to machine and human to human.

We are being sold smart devices that outfit our homes with surveillance cameras, sensors, and automated control. They offer us convenience, at the cost of loss of privacy and control over our lives and homes. We are meant to think these slick plastic pieces of technology are about 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? A person’s home is the first site of their cultural education. By allowing these devices in, we leave the formation of our identity to a small, homogenous group of developers. Women, long seen as the keeper of the home domain, as complicated as that notion is, are now further subjugated. Their control is undermined by the smart home “assisting” and shaping every activity.

This project is an attempt to wrestle back some of that control. The smart home and surveillance devices are present, but there is a human woman behind them, not artificial intelligence. The performance viewers actively participate in this exploration, negotiating boundaries and poking at the system for themselves. Some moments may be awkward and confusing, others may be hopeful and intimate. Together, Lauren hopes to begin a conversation about the consequences of giving our private lives, our data, and our ability to make decisions over to machines.

To participate, go to project website, click on “Get LAUREN” and record a short video explaining why you want to try LAUREN, and describing what is unique about your home.

The project website was created using A-Frame, a web framework for building VR experiences.

Project PageLauren McCarthy