Don't Worry, Be Happy (2020)
As Artificial-Intelligence systems become increasingly ingrained in decision making processes, tech companies are investing tremendous resources to figure out how to objectively infer people’s feelings based on their facial analysis. Emotion detection systems return confidence levels across a set of emotions such as anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. But can we make reliable decisions based on the outcomes of this analysis?
In the live performance ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, the artist is strapped to an electric chair. Her face is constantly detected by an emotion recognition AI system. As long as she is detected as ‘Happy’ she is safe. However, if any other emotion is observed, she receives a non-lethal, 2-second long, electric shock to both her arms. During the performance the artist changes her apparent behavior in order to free herself from the ‘punishment’ that the system delivers. Yet, under the threat of getting shocked, for how long can she perform this exaggerated facial expression so that the machine continues to ‘read’ her as ‘Happy’?
The system in this performance is inspired by previous artworks which communicate torture devices as instruments of the law. These include the Kafka’s penalty machine and Andy Warhol’s “Electric Chair” (1964). Following Foucault’s and Butler’s discussions regarding discipline and punishment, in this performance there is an actual encounter between the body and the law. It also points out to a cultural shift, already taking place with the new technological power which is becoming embedded in our environment. Are AI systems solely responding to existing bodies, or do they also produce and inscribe them?
Related Exhibitions and Publications
ARTECH 2021 - Open Access Paper
Machine Learning for Creativity and Design , NeurIPS 2020
Art and Life in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, SIGGRAPH ASIA 2020