- Sociality and Technology for Social Manipulation: A Conversation Between Christiane Paul and Paolo Cirio
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The following interview took place at Printed Matter, New York City as part of the Sociality & Technology for Social Manipulation event on April 26, 2019.
Thanks so much for coming out tonight, I'm really honored to be able to have this conversation with Paolo, with whom I've worked on a couple of occasions.
Many of you may be familiar with his work, which I would say frequently exposes or undermines systems of power and control. Some of the works you are very well known for, Paolo, are the Hacking Monopolism Trilogy, which you did with Alessandro Ludovico. It includes Google Will Eat Itself where Google revenues from Google Ads were used to buy Google shares; Amazon Noir, which scraped Amazon in order to make books freely available; and Face to Facebook, very well-known, which scraped one million user profiles from Facebook to turn them into a dating site. Another work was Loophole For All, which investigated the Cayman Islands as a refuge for unscrupulous business practices and exposed secretive offshore companies.
Many of these projects are short-lived because there is an immediate crackdown by the corporations involved, so the works very much become a conceptual act.
Before we get to the Sociality book itself, I also want to establish a little bit more context for the Sociality project, which is very much in sync with what you have been doing as a form of regulatory art and, in this case, focuses on the investigation of public repositories of patents, scraping them and analyzing them for us.
There's a lot of talk right now about human sociality and psychology as they are affected by social media and about devices that ultimately program our social behaviors, and I think the project makes a major contribution to that discussion.
So, before we get to the book itself and how it functions within that framework, can you talk a little bit about the Sociality project? What inspired you to do it? How did you approach the project, and then the book as a selection of its findings?
Thanks so much for the introduction and everyone and everything. Well, it was a long path to get to this. I think many years ago I was looking at patents already—just as visual material—to be honest. Because, by doing all these projects, I was already working with algorithms. And those flow charts—just visually—it was already material that I wanted to use.
Then it just happened over the past two years, I would say. And I think the Cambridge Analytica scandal made the big step toward this project. Sometimes those things just happen around you. It's not that you really plan, like schedule, the publication of a project; the material is out there, it's like a public conversation that is happening.
And it's amazing actually how 2018 was the year when everything happened, basically, from Cambridge Analytica and the Facebook scandals happening every day. Also, all these books, news, theories, and articles were starting to talk about discrimination and social manipulation made by algorithms, interfaces, and so on.
Everything really came together. I don't know; but as with most of my best intuitions, the timing was almost coincidental. Then yes, of course when I discovered that there were so many problematic patents, that was the revelation that made me focus on the project and doing a little bit of research, and then I was just shocked how many patents of that sort were coming to me. Then I had to do it.
Yeah, and I think that project and the book are doing a really great service. It's not that you unearthed something we didn't know, we always hear in the media about all those technologies modifying our behaviors or creating bias in data sets through data mining—lowest common denominator filtering that has serious effects on our behaviors, on our legal status, et cetera.
But you can so easily become completely overwhelmed by the issues surrounding...