Ethnic Diversity in Sites of Cultural Activity
An interactive audiovisual installation
Ethnic Diversity in Sites of Cultural Activity poses the question of whether computers can be racist by highlighting the potential for discrimination of face recognition technology. The interactive installation consists of a computer, a web camera, speakers, projectors and lamps. It locates faces, detects skin colour and alters the sound and image produced depending on the ethnic diversity of the visitors to the exhibition. Different music is selected depending on where the work is exhibited. The piece was originally developed in Vienna where it morphed between Fela Kuti’s Zombie for dark skin and Johann Strauss II’s the Blue Danube performed by the Vienna Philharmonic for light skin in reference to the orchestra’s lack of ethnic and gender diversity.
Through a crude racial profiling of visitors, it draws attention to an increasingly common technology which is an example of how a seemingly neutral entity such as a computer can reinforce existing power structures. The context of a playful interactive installation is also a reflection of how we rarely focus on the ways in which software functions, instead becoming preoccupied with the interface; most software are prepackaged “black boxes” inaccessible due to their propriety and closed nature. In addition, it is not completely infallible as with most software and it may be possible to trick the algorithm e.g. by visitors covering parts of their face, using make-up or changing lighting conditions which they are encouraged to do.