The sore throat moved slowly up my skull and became a headcold today, which enabled numerous jokes referencing my role in as a human computer suffering from a virus, running slowly and needing to be isolated from the network and so on. Thankfully I had some anti-virus software (medication) and was able to function in a limited capacity.

No recordings were made as I wasn’t particularly coherent, but visitors came and stuff happened. It wasn’t a waste of a day by any means.

Three people stood out. They were all very different.

1) A woman who works in healthcare was interested in how we could use data collected through online surveillance for health diagnoses and wondered why we couldn’t do that. She was looking for a “third way” between capitalist exploitation of data and socialist healthcare. While I have major issues, it was great to have someone passionately express this centrist middle-ground about these issues and I look forward to her return.

2) A couple who I would have described as “crusties” back in the 90s were very enthused to see all the Robert Anton Wilson references, and I was delighted to see them recognised. We talked a lot about reality tunnels and perception filters, which was fun.

3) Another couple came smartly dressed from the fancy restaurant next door and had lots of questions about what I was doing and why (friendly and constructive “why” questions, I hasted to add!) which were very useful as I’m still not quite sure. Justifying yourself as an artist who isn’t involved in the art market (I have no interest in producing objects for sale to collectors, though of course this might change should collectors want to give me money) is always a challenge and it’s good practice.

I just wish with all three of them I could have engaged more clearly. They all said they’d return later to see how the show has developed, so I’ll hopefully get another chance!

Also had a conversation with Rachel Henaghan, who has a residency at BOM at the moment after a career in emergency medicine and is looking at data collection in relation to stress and sleep, amongst other things. As is the way at BOM we share stuff we’ve stumbled upon and today she showed me What 3 Words, a project to assign unique word combinations to every 3m x 3m square of land on the globe. The purpose is to simplify the communication of accurate location information (BOM is at “rides flat humble” which is easier to read out than 52.476701,-1.897604 and more accurate than the postal address) particularly for emergency situations in rural areas.

It’s a nice idea, and may take off, but I’m really interested in how they’re using language while ignoring meaning. “rides flat humble” was generated randomly but can’t help but generate an idea in the human mind. I’m thinking of taking a GPS trace of a walk around Birmingham and using their tool to convert it into language which can be processed into some kind of prose about that walk. Maybe. Watch this space.

We also talked about the prevalence of surveillance tech in elderly care and I was reminded of visiting an older friend of Fiona’s whose home was full of internet connected devices, presumably so when an alarm was triggered by a fall the emergency services could see what had happened. This contrasted vividly with the dated decoration of the home (as you’d expect in an elderly person’s house), like the future had been grafted onto the 1980s. There’s something interesting there about the primary use of home monitoring devices not being hip young things but the old and vulnerable, at least in the UK.

I’ve decided to use the old iMac in the middle of the shelving to run demos of how computer vision works. The first one is an Optical Flow demo.

The caption reads:

Computer Vision

A rolling showcase of simple programmes demonstrating how computer systems “see” the world.

Today, Optical Flow, a simple Processing sketch by Hidetoshi Shimodaira which measures changes in pixel data and tracks the speed and direction of movement.

On the one hand, very pretty. On the other hand, how you move is as unique as your fingerprint. Individuals can be tracked by this data-point alone as they move through a city.

Processing is a very accessible programming language favoured by artists and educators. Visit processing.org for details.

It’s already getting a lot of interest. I’ve been reluctant to do tech-demos but with some critical context they can be quite effective conversation starters.