Lauren Lee McCarthy examines how issues of surveillance, automation and network culture effect our social relationships and makes art inspired by people. Her creations is a representation of pushing boundaries with technology and society. Social dynamic can be affected by locations, culture and human behavior. Some can get awkward and some feel like it’s meant to be. Laughter and madness will always be part of life. Technology started to cause social change shaped with judgements and affection separately. In its third year, Digilogue Summit bring creatives who push limits of art and invention. Lauren will be performing her 24 Hour Host project throughout the summit. And she will be inviting you to a cocktail party hosted by an artificial intelligence. After her performance at Sundance, we are excited to see this amazing experience in person! Her work is not about the current reality but to be self. We had an inspiring conversation on what it is to be a person in today’s world.

A lot of times people see my work as addressing technology, but to me, I see it more simply as addressing what it is to be a person today.

Much of your work directly linked to how technology and culture affect our social relations. How did you start your journey on this topic?

I’ve always begun with the situations that cause me the most confusion and anxiety. A first date, hosting a party, moving in with a new partner. I then see if there’s some way I can twist it around into something different using the tools available. I often feel I’m very bad at connecting with new people, so as I’m twisting, I’m looking for ways to hack my way into a closeness with another person that I might not normally be able to access.

A lot of times people see my work as addressing technology, but to me, I see it more simply as addressing what it is to be a person today. Art can give us a lens to see ourselves differently, and this is more useful than ever as technology works to obscure this awareness.

You make art inspired by people. What do you think about the society in the world we live in right now with so much interest in technology?

I often position works in the ambiguous space between critique and optimism. I’m not interested in telling people what to feel about our current reality, instead I want to give them a space to reflect on this and decide for themselves. The pace of technological development can put us in the mindset that we must make snap judgments and react quickly and loudly to every change or comply without thought. My goal is to create a moment in which we can stop and think, engage with the tensions of our evolving social systems, and tease out the good and bad.

Nowadays everyone is talking about how technology started to ruin our reality and make people feel that they should fit into the same box. What do you think about that?

We hear companies talk about big data and machine learning in a way that is abstract and opaque. I think it’s difficult to understand what all that really means to us. But for me, this is crucial. Our personal data is deeply related to our identity — it describes us, it reveals insights into our lives and personalities. It also shapes us. The systems and structures we build and use for gathering, storing, and interacting with our data defines the way we think about ourselves. The models of ourselves that we create with this data determine the actions we take. So, I am wondering, can we do something more interesting than counting our steps, tracking our calories, collecting likes on our Facebook posts? What happens if instead we look at what this data means in the context of our social relationships. Is there possibilities for improvement, or is it something we should be critical of and questioning? 

So I am wondering, can we do something more interesting than counting our steps, tracking our calories, collecting likes on our facebook posts? What happens if instead we look at what this data means in the context of our social relationships. Is there possibilities for improvement, or is it something we should be critical of and questioning?

Speaking of being connected, you have a project called “24h Host.” What was the motivation behind this project?

The performance’s concept is based on the hypothesis that as algorithms begin to optimize nearly every interaction and aspect of our lives, a last remaining role for people may be performing the emotional labor to act as human interface to AI systems. We may seek the efficiency and optimization of algorithms, but we will still desire the emotional experience of interacting with humans. While we may worry about AI taking over jobs, human caregiving is actually the fastest growing job sector in the country, increasing at a rate of five times that of any other job sector. We will still want to be greeted with a smile, held in an embrace, led by the hand of another person. In this performance, the HOST serves as the human vehicle for the AI’s directions, to deliver them with real emotion and awareness of the person in front of them.

What is the challenge with doing a project such as “24h Host”?

The performance begins with my nightmare, and I wonder if the addition of AI makes it easier or more terrifying? I want to believe that having a software system analyzing and aiding interactions will make things smoother. But now I have two anxieties—the possibility of my personal failure as host, as well as the possibility of software failure due to a bug I may accidentally program. Having software drive means the host and party can transcend the normal human limitations and durations. Over the course of 24 hours, I wonder which will fail first. As their host becomes more depleted, do the guests begin to see the AI laid bare without human interface, or through the struggling exhaustion is the most human part actually revealed? 

“24h Host” will perform in Istanbul, you tell us about expectations as an artist?

It will be an interesting experience to run this performance in Istanbul, in a different language, difficult culture, different place. That is one of the interesting parts of this work, coming to understand how social dynamics change from place to place, realizing that social expectations and assumptions that feel fixed are actually quite arbitrary and there are many other possibilities.

I am looking for the ideas that fill me with anxiety and make me laugh at the same time.

You are attending to Digilogue Summit – Future Tellers. What do you think about the importance of platforms like this?

It is a chance to share ideas and learn from others’ perspectives. I am looking forward to hearing how those in Istanbul and elsewhere think about “open source” and expecting it will open up my own approach to the topic.

In your process, being a creative self, what is the one thing that always catches your eye?

I am looking for the ideas that fill me with anxiety and make me laugh at the same time.