Launch of I’m Honoured To Serve, an artistic critic of digital assistants and user’s exploitation

Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The AI + Society Initiative is delighted to announce the launch of I'm Honoured To Serve, a multidisciplinary project that offers a unique lens through which to critically examine the technology we build, and (re)evaluate its meaning and function in the world.  

Led by Dr. Jason Millar, Canada Research Chair in the Ethical Engineering of Robotics and AI, and Chantal Rodier, Artist in Residence at the Faculty of Engineering, I’m Honoured To Serve explores the insidious guise of digital environments made to generate user data in a way to profit from the unsuspecting user. 

The team also included artists and Scotiabank Fellows Sarah Jasmine Hodgson and Willem Deisinger. Through this multi-media installation, they attempt to make visible the implicit conventions that are imposed on users while being manipulated into giving unpaid labourers.  

 

Discover I'm Honoured To Serve

 

With the permeation of AI, we have become complacent in volunteering our labour through the commercialization, popularization and glamorization of consumer tech that creates the illusion of capability and power. While this modern technology holds up the facade of an adept, powerful, and neutral tool meant to serve the user, the technology we interact with is always embedded with values, character traits, and fictional backgrounds to create a marketable product with a personality. It functions less as a neutral tool with advanced capabilities and more as a product embedded with opaque motives operating behind a facade not clearly understood by the user.  

Presented in a staged office space, I’m Honoured To Serve uses the language of advertising and design to bring viewers back in time to the late 20th century where there was hope, excitement, and the promise of freedom by tech developers. Deisinger and Hodgson aim to uncover this illusion with Maeve, a Digital AI Assistant that functions as a disjointed and aloof character that manifests the jarring reality of personalizing technology. Viewers are welcomed to sit and observe the interview between Maeve and her potential future employer. Responses from Maeve are directly sourced from Google Assistant to critically investigate the values, character traits, fictional backgrounds and stock questions and answers developers have embedded into them. This interaction reminds us that the developer’s motive is to create a marketable product that convinces users to volunteer their data, coaxing them to understand the technology through an often distorted lens. While early computing technology companies simply sold tools to would-be users, the user’s role has become more complicated with companies’ shift towards selling the user as the product, harvested from a sea of data. In referencing late 20th century technology, I’m Honoured to Serve contrasts our vague and dynamic understanding of the producer-consumer relationship with the emergence of big data and AI. 

 

This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Scotiabank Fund for the AI + Society Initiative at the University of Ottawa and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

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