In 2016, surveillance of private citizens is widespread. The government does it. So what’s stopping you? “That’s what we’re after: the democratization of surveillance,” says Simon Caspersen of Trailerpark I/O, an annual arts and design conference in Copenhagen by Rebel Agency, the small Danish design agency also behind Ikea’s Space10 innovation lab.
To do so, they have partnered with Great Works CPH to develop the I See U: a DIY surveillance gadget that spies on people around you, and translates their conversations into a stream of animated GIFs.
Made up of a parabolic microphone, a Raspberry Pi, and a touch screen, the device works by transcribing the conversations of the people it’s pointed at in real-time, then using their words as search terms on Giphy, the popular GIF search engine. These GIFs play in a three-by-three grid on the touch screen, shifting between GIFs as the conversation changes. For example, if someone said, “Hello, how are you?” the device might spit out a GIF like this, or this. If you’re lucky, you might be able to discern the actual conversation, but it’s really more of an artful interpretation.
Why GIFs? “We’re trying to hide the real dystopia,” says Caspersen. “Enabling people to spy on everybody was the most horrific idea we can think of, so like everything we do, we tried to make the execution playful.” The goal of the kit, though, is deadly serious: to raise awareness and start conversations about the ubiquitous surveillance state, as it exists around the world.
As Caspersen points out, we’re living in a world where Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg–himself responsible for the monthly surveillance of roughly 1/6th the world’s population–is so afraid of being spied on, he’s gone to the ludicrous length of taping over his computer’s camera lens and audio jack. That’s a man who is afraid of the odds being evened out, Caspersen says.
The I See U will make its official debut at Trailerpark I/O in Copenhagen on July 29, but in the meantime, you can sign up to pre-order the Spy Kit when it’s made available, for a still-unspecified price.