Karen Palmer is a London-based digital filmmaker who combines gaming, art, science and technology in her films to create immersive experiences. In her work she explores the possibilities of technology to reconnect p)eople with their humanity, compassion and sometimes even spirituality, helping them become aware of how emotions affect the narrative of their lives.
RIOT is an emotionally responsive, live-action film, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning through facial recognition to allow viewers to navigate through a dangerous situation. The film is presented as solo player experience installation, where the viewer finds himself or herself in a riot, perception enhanced by ambisonic sound and scent of smoke. Suddenly, you are stopped by riot police. The outcome of this interaction –and other encounters during the film- will vary, depending on whether your natural, real-time reaction is one of anger, one of fear or if you remain calm. In the case of the riot police, you might be hit, arrested or simply asked to leave.
Karen had the idea for the film after watching riots in Venezuela, Turkey, Bulgaria and elsewhere. The main objective of her film is to help participants understand how the emotions they express and the split second decisions they make can have positive or negative consequences, giving them deep insight of their subconscious behaviour and teaching them about themselves and empowering them. A sort of “riot training”.
In many places, artificial intelligence and facial recognition is already being used by governments to monitor individuals suspected of terrorism. However, because they are all programmed by human beings, no artificial intelligence system can be free of bias. For Karen, especially in times of generalised global unrest and early develoment of these digital tools, the key to equity and social justice is to make this same technology widely available to ordinary people.
RIOT was first presented in 2018 and has already been shown in several art spaces, but it’s really a project in progress. Karen is now working with developers from ThoughtWorks, a global software consultancy with a strong commitment to social justice, to develop artificial intelligence and machine learning so they can improve the prototype. The ultimate goal would be to separate this enhanced artificial intelligence from the RIOT system and to make it available to the general public.
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