The following is a synopsis of my thesis journey - one involving a culmination of skills and disciplines I've honed over my time at NYU. Click the button below to read my entire thesis paper.FULL THESIS PAPER
How might we use critical design to call attention to hidden surveillance technologies that are violating our rights to privacy? It’s clear that we need a tool to be used in opposition to the emerging products using facial data as a weapon against us. We need protection. I will set out to make a product that offers users a way to thwart facial recognition technology, attempting to also point out that the eventual solution will be made by those who created the problem.
The secondary research informing this project helped to further narrow my list of stakeholders and inspire the eventual output. They covered a wide range of media and content from academic papers to exhibitions and everything in between. Particularly interesting to me and the article that inspired this project was Claire Garvey’s Perpetual Lineup, where she uncovered the fact that police are using our drivers licenses to perform lineups without our consent.
The goal of my primary research was to understand inherent problems and opportunities currently being explored with facial recognition data. To understand motives, attitudes and concerns from those currently working on facial recognition products. In order to find out more about what is happening on the tech side, I sat down with designers, engineers and researchers who are actively involved in the creation of applications leveraging facial recognition.
When I secured the key stakeholders and had a better understanding of the biometric surveillance landscape for this project, I began my work by ideating potential solutions to this problem. My first exercise was mind mapping where I created a categorical brain tree to uncover hidden and overlooked outputs from the use of biometric surveillance.
Iteration was the most significant theme when it came to designing this product and it involved a synthesis of every skill that I’ve honed over my past 3 years at New York University (NYU). Each step in the process involved many failures in order to get a desired result. I built two complete helmets, the latter improving upon the design of the former.
In order to prove that the helmet actually works against facial recognition technology, I put it to the test against my own facial detection program created with OpenFrameworks. Due to the fact that the helmet completely covers your head, I was not surprised that it worked. Further testing will involve leveraging actual API’s from leading surveillance companies.
This process was truly thrilling for me and I am genuinely sad that it is over. Creating, building, and researching - pushing myself to my absolute limits in terms of technical and conceptual skills was one of the toughest and most gratifying experiences of my life. I plan to continue working in the wearable hardware medium in my post graduate life and hope to start a business of creating custom pieces for performance artists.