“Face Values: Exploring Artificial Intelligence” at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Installation view of "Face Values," organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum for the 2018 London Design Biennale. Photo David Levene.

“Face Values: Exploring Artificial Intelligence” at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York explores the possibilities and limits of artificial intelligence through interactive works featuring technologies such as face detection, emotion recognition and eye-tracking. On view in the museum’s Process Lab Sept. 20 through May 17, 2020, the immersive installation features commissioned work by R. Luke DuBois, Zachary Lieberman and Karen Palmer, and is accompanied by a visual essay on facial measurement by Jessica Helfand.

First unveiled at the 2018 London Design Biennale, where it received a medal for the most inspiring interpretation of the Biennale’s Emotional States theme, “Face Values” investigates how the human face has been transformed into a living data source that governments and businesses use to track, measure and monetize emotions. The 2019 installation at Cooper Hewitt includes a newly commissioned work by Palmer.

“Face Values” speaks to the rising fascination around facial detection technology, particularly in the U.S., where major companies continue to experiment and push boundaries with this controversial software. Playful and provocative interactions with the work allow viewers to gain further awareness of tools that are incorporated into countless products and systems, in ways that the public may not fully realize.

The works on view in “Face Values” include:

  • Expression Mirror by Lieberman creates a unique portrait by mixing the viewer’s face with expressions generated by other visitors. Dynamic white lines create an abstract, graphic interpretation of emotional states to demonstrate how machine-learning technologies evaluate people’s behaviors.
  • Expression Portrait by DuBois instructs the viewer to enact a series of different emotions toward the screen—such as sadness, anger or disgust. The camera records the viewer’s expression and employs software tools to judge their age, sex, gender and emotional state.
  • Perception IO (input output) by Palmer reveals how a person’s gaze and emotions influence their perception of reality. The system tracks the participant’s eye movements and facial expressions while they watch a video and shows the results of where they looked and how they responded in order to illuminate implicit human bias.
  • A History of Facial Measurement, a visual essay by designer and historian Helfand, explains how scientists, criminologists and beauty experts have tried to quantify the human face.
  • A garden of synthetic three-dimensional reeds designed by Matter Architecture Practice serves as the backdrop for the installation, evoking a strange marriage of nature and technology.

On Sept. 16, the Interaction Lab at Cooper Hewitt and Museums + AI Network will co-host Curator, Computer, Creator: A Discussion on Museums and AI in the 21st Century. The program will explore different perspectives on artificial intelligence applications in the museum sector.

Other planned events include a panel discussion with DuBois, Lieberman and Helfand on Oct. 3, and a conversation with Palmer on Oct. 29. Visit cooperhewitt.org/events for registration details.

Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 210,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3-D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world. Cooper Hewitt knits digital into experiences to enhance ideas, extend reach beyond museum walls and enable greater access, personalization, experimentation and connection. The museum is fully accessible.

For more information about Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, visit https://www.cooperhewitt.org/ or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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Andrea Karen Hammer, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, is the founder, CEO and owner of Artsphoria Inclusive & Collaborative Publishing, Media Group & Shop (https://www.artsphoria.org). She leads the operation and innovation at Artsphoria: Arts, Business & Technology Center (https://www.artsphoria.biz), Artsphoria Event Advertising & Reporting (https://www.artsphoria.info); Artsphoria International Magazine (https://www.artsphoria.com), Artsphoria Movie Reviews & Film Forum (https://www.artsphoria.us); Artsphoria: Food for the Soul (https://artsphoria.live); Artsphoria's Animation & Imagination World (https://www.artsphoria.net) and Artsphoria Shop (https://artsphoriashop.com).

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