On Trevor Paglen’s Sight Machine

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
January 15, 2017

At the FOG Design + Art fair on Saturday, January 14, 2017 I was on a panel discussing Trevor Paglen’s new performance piece in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. Trevor’s work, Sight Machine: Artificial Intelligence and Ethics, explores the way machines “see” and interpret the experience of watching a musical performance. In the evening following this panel, a performance by the Kronos Quartet was processed in real time through artificial intelligence algorithms, and the resultant “machine vision” data images were projected on a screen above the performers. The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford described it as an artistic meditation on automated surveillance technology and the ethical considerations of new ways of seeing and processing human endeavors.


Remarks by Jennifer Granick

Thank you for inviting me here to FOG Fair. I’m particularly honored to talk about Trevor Paglen’s work, as Trevor is an artist who helps us to understand surveillance in the modern world.

People often ask me whether, as a surveillance law expert, I was surprised by the information that Edward Snowden revealed in June of 2013. I was surprised. One of the biggest surprises, and the most disappointing as a lawyer, was the way that the intelligence community was abusing language to legitimize massive surveillance.

People have only a few ways to make meaning of this world. For artists, you have visual works, you have sound and music, you have touch, you have performance. Lawyers are more limited. We are heavily dependent on language, especially written language. But what do we do when language doesn’t mean what you think it means anymore? When you read something, and even though you are a legal expert, you can’t be sure what it really means anymore? Then what does it mean to be a lawyer? And more importantly for society, what does it mean to have laws?

In March of 2013, in the Age before Snowden, or as we like to say, the Age of BS, Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a question. He asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” And Clapper answered, “No sir … not wittingly.” That wasn’t true. In fact, the NSA was collecting phone calling records from every possible American. It had been collecting Internet metadata until 2011. And the NSA may still be collecting our financial records in bulk.

Read the full piece at Medium