The idea of the workshop and the name of it ‘The Digital Self’ is actually one extension of our research around “trust in the age of algorithms”. This research resulted in an experience where inside a room after logging in on an Ipad, a smart mirror starts talking to you and reveals how your “digital self” appears. After this “revelation”, a receipt with your big five traits is printed out. In other words you get to know your psychometric profile according to the way you write on Facebook or Twitter.
This experience was the first output of this research and it unfolded many other questions to explore. Thus, wondering how to control our digital appearance, we divided into articles approaching psychometrics, personal computing and the new techniques scientists are using to understand our online presence in a qualitative way.
People responded well to the project, and you got a sense that the audience wanted to understand the philosophy and themes around the project in more depth. The idea that you exist online, and how this has an impact on your identity in the physical world was a recurring topic of discussion. One participant asked us if the algorithm could recognise hidden messages in languages. And discussed how people would give words hidden meanings to avoid surveillance, where words like dolphin or brick could denote various hidden messages (in fact a friend of mine recently did a project around this topic). In comparison at a talk we gave beforehand in Lisbon, the audience wanted to know more about the technical side of the algorithms being used.
For the workshop we had a mix of Chinese and western expats attending, twelve people in total. During the first part we did a small demo where participants answered some questions related to how they might appear on social media. This text was then feed to IBM Watson in the same way our bigger project Cached worked, and then we printed out a receipt for everyone with their psychometric profile on it. We later explored how certain words and phrases could be changed to give a different score. For example adding more words such as; we, us and them, as well as talking more about people increased my agreeableness score (that is how you get along with others as opposed to how skeptical you are.)
Part two was more hands on, we even made a set of design brainstorming cards to help participants choose what they would prototype. They would choose three cards from three different sets. One of the cards denoted a fact or assumption such as “your selfies reveal too much about your persona”, the next was a design task “design a physical product”, and the last card was a constraint such as “to hide this from society”. After using the cards to generate ideas, we laid out an array of interesting artefacts the group could use to prototype and communicate their idea.
The result was a range of super interesting prototypes challenging the current way that technology has invaded our living realities.