Quantified Society

What are the social and rights-based implications of the “quantified society?”

This was the mind blowing question behind one of the most interesting gatherings that I facilitated this summer. Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a relentless pace. And the most powerful corporations on earth now have unimaginable troves of data about our most intimate behavior. We don’t seem to have the bandwidth to deal with the implications. And yet answering this question is a democratic imperative.

Some of philanthropy’s biggest names came together in New England in order to grapple with the question.

The event brought together researchers, advocates, artists and funders in a space designed for participants to exchange ideas, build community, gain inspiration for their work and seed possible collaborations.

Including an artistic perspective proved to be very smart move. It opened up the conversation, softening left brain rigidity and pointing towards new possibilities.

We heard from artists like:

Heather Dewey-Hagborg and her work, Probably Chelsea, which consists of thirty different possible portraits of Chelsea Manning algorithmically-generated by an analysis of her DNA

Jer Thorp who explores the intersection of data and art

Mimi Onuoha whose work explores missing data and the ways in which people are abstracted, represented, and classified

Ellen Pearlman who created Noor: A Brain Opera, the world’s first immersive interactive brain opera

Wielding culture as a tool to explore the edge of our brave new world of technology provided an access point into questions that we are only just beginning to grapple with. The combination art, and the experience of authentic human connection that is made possible by good facilitation, proved a refreshing alternative for participants who spend too much time in spaces that can be overly technical.

This is a subject that can get scary. We even learned of technologies aiming to mimic “Minority Report,” the Tom Cruise film that takes place in a future where crime is said to be predicted. But it was refreshing to me to be among a group of people seeking to uphold the values of democracy and willing to work from a place of big learning instead of too much knowing.