Monday, January 28, 2019

HUMAN: Recognition, Identification, Targeting

HUMAN Oil on linen 31 x 36 cm 2019

In both these paintings, HUMAN  and Where to Hide? (below), I play with ideas of algorithmic human identification, and reasons for this identification. Clearly, as the cross-hairs indicate, I am thinking about targeting. However, reasons for targeting can range from orders to kill, to targeting by entities such as advertisers, pollsters, corporations, and governments. These seemingly benign entities target to seduce buyers, persuade voters, and to muster people into standardised behaviour [particularly online]. In this interconnected and networked age, the data that is collected, however, could/can be used to aid identification and targeting for more deadly purposes.

In both paintings I have appropriated the appearance of a computer screen or lens, giving a sense of removal from the scene eg: similar to remote airborne drone operations. But, is the operator human or machine? The algorithm of binary code 'instructing' HUMAN at the bottom of each painting references the use of machine learning to assist in target identification. Global debates about whether autonomous systems should go further and make the ultimate 'kill' decision have regularly occurred since 2013, eg: CCW at UNOG. However, politics and the law, are fast outpaced by enhancements in technological applications and systems developments.

I purposefully did not 'instruct' in binary code the words HUMAN BEING because I wanted the single word HUMAN to suggest that algorithms identify using data-derived characteristics of humankind. While individuals are certainly targets, humanity is also in the cross-hairs, but do we realise it? Also, while individuals are targeted standardisation of characteristics leads to biases and mistakes, and the possibility of further standardisation. Could standardisation could pose a an existential threat?

I have painted the shadows of the seemingly targeted figures as trees-of-life. For me this indicates things the algorithm cannot access, like imagination and dreams. Each tree-shadow is an individual, representing life in all its array of personal and ancestral history, biology, spirit and soul. Can these all be reduced to data?

But, the tree-of-life represents another kind of 'code' of life, one that also speaks to humanity as a whole. The tree-of-life with its array of branches, twigs and leaves, stands in contrast with the zeros and ones. I am reminded of Jean Baudrillard's observation about a digital destiny where it will be "possible to measure everything by the same extremely reductive yardstick: the binary, the alternation between 0 and 1". (1) Here, standardisation can be viewed as a reductive process to enable the kind of measurement Baudrillard suggests. The tree stands as a resolute beacon of hope!

HUMAN and Where to Hide? are part of my ongoing quest to represent landscape in ways that pose questions about humanity's future and the planet's future. I  think about computer graphics, imaging technology, invisible signals and undersea cables that enable networked operations. Are inter-connectivity and networking processes examples of standardisation? Is targeting made easier in a world netted by militarised and militarise-able signals that perhaps perpetuate standardisation? Is there anywhere to hide in a standardised environment?

There is more to say, but I will leave that up to you.


[1] Jean Baudrillard, Passwords, trans. Chris Turner (London and New York: Verso, 2003), 76.

Where to Hide? Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019

No comments: