Stories of Driverless Governance
Role: Fiction Designer
Collaborators: Winnie Chang, Corey Chao
This test-site is governed by an algorithm that distributes resources equally, with precision at the caloric-level. Participants claim their fair share through entertainment interfaces, where the odds of winning the rarest morsels are rigged in the favor of the site’s most efficient citizens. This project details some questions revealed by our first prototype, Equality Analytics, a multi-perspective short film that portrays daily life on different scales. These questions include: what are the definitions of happiness in advanced techno-capitalism; how do we (or our machines) distinguish between equality and equity in a quantified democratic state; and what are other positive and negative implications of increased data-driven governance?
As a tool for next-thinking, this speculative project examines how materializing and exploring these alternative future scenarios expand the opportunities for inquiry. While the algorithm at the Sparks Laboratory predicts every citizen’s likely consumption and rewards them preemptively, Amazon’s modern-day warehouses ship goods closer to your home-based solely on your likelihood of buying them. Police distribute their resources based on likely criminal activity (making more arrests, more data points), while new algorithms flag officers are more likely to commit abuse. These technologies are developed with a specific purpose, by organizations and corporations that have particular assumptions about the world. Designers should interrogate the long-term possibilities these new technologies present.
Equality Analytics is the first of many acts of design. As such, the Sparks Laboratory becomes a fertile world around which we will continue to ideate. Our intent is to use this narrative structure as a form of framing and original thinking, to fold designers, technologists, theorists and bureaucrats of all kinds into a project of future thinking.
What if governance was driverless? What would be its measures of equality? Happiness? We invented a platform, the Sparks Laboratory, to speculate on those possibilities. The Sparks Laboratory is part of a growing field of design work in which curious narratives act as the research mechanism for addressing a complex series of issues. You may learn more about Sparks Laboratory here.