What Price Perfection?
Based on first impressions alone, it would be tempting to dismiss Or Even Tov and Miri Segal’s video exhibit “Future Perfect,” on view until December 11 at Tel Aviv’s Dvir Gallery, as clever if somewhat overstated satire. Taking its cues from the realm of technological-scientific progress, one immediately discerns tropes from science fiction, specifically the specter of omnipotent control. The short film starts with a lone figure surveying a panoramic landscape before turning to address his Internet audience, tens of millions from across the world.
The benevolent overlord is Sergey B, co-founder and president of Gooble Inc. (sound familiar?); the purpose of his public address, on 28th March 2013, is to announce the launch of the revolutionary Gmind, a wearable computer activated by users’ thoughts. A small headset equipped with a minute camera and projector, it captures the wearer’s thoughts by reading EEG patterns, and projects search engine associations onto the user’s pupil. Through thought command, it can also film all that the wearer sees, to be archived and made accessible at will. Sergey B describes this innovation as the democratization of knowledge. “Within our lifetime, everyone can have tools of equal power,” he purrs soothingly.
It does sound a little like speculative babble; but then, who could have predicted the omnipresent utility of, say, the iPhone a decade ago? More to the point, one does not — at least not yet — have Steve Jobs evoking Primo Levi and that “wonderful, fallacious instrument” called human memory at one of his famous press conferences. And it is in this context that “Future Perfect” engages. What it does, subtly, is to push to the foreground the ethical and social considerations that must accompany any assessment of what technology can do for us.
Sergey B suggests that a suitably adapted version of the Gmind, for infants, can capture every significant event in their lives, good as well as bad. No more suppressed traumas, he proposes. No further need for psychoanalysis. But can something as complex as the human mind be reduced to a set of changeable algorithms, to be downloaded and clinically dissected at will? And, for that matter, can the democratization of information actually bring parity to the people? It is one thing to have access to information; another to have the opportunity to use it.
“Future Perfect” does not propose to answer these questions, but rather seeks to ease them into our consciousness. This is not to say that the short film does not hint at opinions of its own; in a delightfully whimsical coda, a young woman dances to an archived film called up through her Gmind, her spontaneity in pointed contrast to Sergey B’s earnestness.
But “Future Perfect” is also cautionary; on leaving the gallery, the viewer is directed to a poster of Google’s corporate slogan, “Don’t Be Evil.” It seems to serve as both rebuke and reminder; after all, the road to Hell is lined with good intentions.