The thesis concept is speculative and immersive storytelling with narrative that envisions its participants experiencing a totalitarian society driven by artificial intelligence. In the story, the scariness of this totalitarian vision is represented through multimedia such as dramatic storytelling strategies, futuristic visualizations, and sound design. In this dystopian world, AI is created and misused by the authoritarian party in order to rule the public, persecute individuality, violate freedom and conduct mass surveillance. The theme reflects political issues in real life and offers a prophecy of a near future in which we see the full negative impacts of technological monopoly. This project aims to trigger speculation and debate about the dark side, as well as the relationship between politics, power, and technology.
Very succinctly, totalitarianism can be defined as a political system in which the authority of the state roughly controls all spheres of society and individual life, such as legal, economics, culture and media; thereby, individual freedom is not permitted theoretically and the public ideology is subordinated by the party (Totalitarianism, 2020). A more detailed definition could be the following: under totalitarianism, the state is not only the sole source of justice, authority and legitimacy, but also “the sole agent through which all benefits and privileges are received. (Balockaite, 2017)
Given these definitions, I see two good reasons to discuss the relationship among individuals, politics and technology under a circumstance of totalitarian society:
Throughout history, misusing or abusing technology is not a single accidental cause. There is a fund of evidence that technology is utilized deliberately and maliciously by certain individuals, corporations and regimes. For instance, IBM provided database punch cards and database technology for Nazis in their 1933 census. Such technology is widely used to collect population statistics in order to single out social groups (Lovink, 2019). Consequently, it played a chilling and significant role in coordinating forced labor, counting and selecting Jews during the Holocaust.
Nowadays, with the rapid iteration and development of technology, it has become smarter and more powerful. However, we will inevitably face greater potential risks to expose ourselves to a digital dilemma. Therefore, it makes me rethink the relationship among humans, society and technology.
When the dark side of technology arises into politicism and legitimation, the situation might become more severe and complicated. Based on the above mentioned, in order to support the regime, a totalitarian state as the unique representative of justice, authority and legitimacy has the capability to take actions via invasive technology, such as persecuting individuality and violating freedom and conducting mass surveillance. Take the panopticon as an example. To make sure of the automatic functioning of power, panopticons are designed to induce in the inmate a state of visibility (the inmate will constantly have before their eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon) and unverifiable (the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at any one moment; but he must be sure that he always will be so) (Foucault). Michel Foucault regarded the panopticon as a metaphor for the modern disciplinary society in Discipline and Punish (1975). We are living in a digital era where there is “politics, ideology, prejudices, and all of the subjective stuff of history everywhere (Kate & Trevor, 2019)”.
In previous sections, I justified extensive technologies and their accompanying societal and political issues. Among these technologies, artificial intelligence (henceforth AI) is transforming our world and showing the obvious potential to alter and threat social and political traditions. AI has the ability of a computer to learn from data, and then simulating behaviors and extrapolating decision-making (Diamond, 2019). Based on characteristics of AI, it has become a boon to totalitarian forces (2019). However, under totalitarianism, it is difficult for citizens to obtain rights of privacy and have no “compunction about demanding unfettered access to all this data” (2019). Foucault examines the individual that is created as a ‘machine’ to serve a larger ‘machinery of power’ (Laura, 2001). What if AI becomes a significant part of this larger machine? What if AI provides a means to collect and analyze citizens’ data for totalitarian regimes? If this happens, governments can abuse the power of AI to the detriment of citizens. In such a scenario, I will depict and prophecy a totalitarian tech-driven society by using the words as “a dark, scary, speculative and dystopian world”.
According to research, the dystopia of totalitarian and technopoly society has been embodied across a variety of media. For example, novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Brave New World (1932) and Neuromancer (1984), as well as films such as The Matrix(1999), Robocop (1987) and Blade Runner (1982) present bleak accounts of dangerous worlds of corporate domination, technological disaster and totalitarian control (Tulloch, 2009).
The key insight I learned from these speculative arts and precedents is to spectate what if totalitarian regimes use AI in order to “extend full control over human consciousness and human thinking (Balockaite, 2017)”. Now, we are entering the AI version of the Big Brother world.
To take the first steps towards building a strong narrative, I did in-depth research.
Influenced by The Trial (Kafka) & the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner, I inverted my design question to ask what if governments develop AI as the police force and offer them the supreme right to control citizens. Then, I wrote my preliminary script and the plot is this:
The protagonist is arrested and prosecuted by the A.I. police. He/she is placed in the middle of a large and empty trial room. After that, A.I. Police start the trial process. At the beginning, the A.I. Police ask the protagonist basic personal information with a solemn tone, such as name and date of birth. The protagonist feels weird, scared and vulnerable because the A.I stranger knows about his/her secrets in detail, which can break his/her mental defense line. Once the protagonist falls into the trap of psychological warfare, the A.I. Police keep asking further questions. Based on the protagonist's response, A.I. Police lead the protagonist to answer these questions and he/she into an unfavorable situation, then predicting and judging if he/she has done something illegal via algorithm. The protagonist tries to explain and defend himself/herself. However, it cannot change the result. In the end，the protagonist has to surrendered under severe torture by the A.I. Police, and then confessed the unwarranted crime.
In order to find my compass, I wrote a script and illustrated storyboards. Again, the backstory is that as long as there are threats to the party and its rule, these innocent people will be regarded as crime suspects by AI police’s algorithm. They will be indicated by framed accusations that are difficult to defend for themselves.
The prototype is a series of of clips recording the plot of the trial process. I role played as A.I. Police and participants play the wronged character. The main purpose is to test whether participants can notice the serious negative impacts of the diffusion and abuse of AI technologies of control and oppression by totalitarian forces in the story. I tested these prototypes with 8 participants. Then, I conducted a short interview with them in order to ask for some feedback.
As for world building, to institutionalize the atmosphere of fear, I took the panopticon and the central dome in Psycho-Pass (a Japanese cyberpunk anime TV series) as references. I designed these illustrative visual compositions which speculate for a futuristic juristical architecture in a rotunda structure under AI-driven totalitarianism, including court, prison and panopticon etc.
In order to experiment with the project concept, I created some components of the 3D landscape model by Cinema 4D. Rendering these scenes with clean and sterile style is the core strategy for setting off a feeling of “the sacralization of politics under totalitarianism (Balockaite, 2017)”.
"The optimum population is modelled on the iceberg-eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above."
--Brave New World (1932)
I designed the the panopticon on the surface, but there are 3 layers of invision prison underwater and each layer is deeper and darker that above one -- It is the metaphor and of this project name.
In the backstory, the AI police themselves were also ordinary citizens. Later, they transformed by the regime into mechanical bodies and various tubes were attached to them. This is evidence and traces of them going through a dark and terrifying period of brainwashing and transformation.
Also, I referenced the appearance of the royal knight in Digimon (1999) and designed my image of the AI Police.
The background music is relatively smooth brisk and elegant melody to set off a seemingly pure and beautiful environment yet dystopian. Additional sound effects such as deep ocean sound, bubbles, mechanical operation noise etc are matched with pictures in order to convey the mood of underwater scenes.
I also added voice overs as supportive explanations and dialogues to help the audience to understand the theme of my story and gain a repressive emotional reaction.
There are 2 main storylines in the short film:
The flashback clips of the protagonist’s memory are edited by using fade in & fade out and match cut and then creating these resulting scenes in a montage way.
I invested many efforts into early concept and narrow down it to a specific dystopian warning. During the process, I kept explore and reflect alternate solutions.
As a designer, I believe I have a responsibility to carefully consider potentially invasive impact of products design decisions and avoid related risks.
Although I faced a lot of technical challenges like how to create and animate 3D models, I took it as an opportunity to learn and improve new skills.
Telling a good story through screen acquires a solid script, strong narrative and many other pieces. Losing any piece would lead to story becoming uncompleted.