It’s hard to go anywhere in Montreal these days without stumbling into a surprise.
On Friday the surprise was Montreal’s Compassion Machine.
The music – a spooky hypnotic sound – catches my attention first, then the way people are stopping in their tracks as they stream into and out of St. Laurent Metro station.
One brave person has stepped out of the crowd and is looking into the smiley face on the screen.
The machine tells her (only women stepped forward while I watched) that it is a surveillance system:
“I am a surveillance system equipped with face recognition algorithms and computer vision. I observe your face and your movements to predict your behaviour. I am supposed to identify your suspicious movements and your consumption habits.
But my algorithms have been hijacked.
Instead I detect your smile and your level of empathy […] Look into the camera to discover what I know about you.” Km3 Compassion Machine
The machine then goes on to try to determine whether the person is male/female, their age, whether they are empathetic or not, attentive or not (is that ‘criminal tendencies’ that just clicks onto the screen for a millisecond?), then what their next empathetic act will be.
I go to check out the back of the machine. “I can see you you looking at me,” it tells me.
Then this ominous message: “I want the best for you.”
According to the surveillance information given on one side of the machine, the average number of times you’re likely to be caught on video surveillance every day is …. 75!
The Compassion Machine is part of Km3 which has created 22 art installations in the Quartier des Spectacles of Montreal during the fall of 2017.
(P.S., I’m not totally convinced by its age estimations!)