Now you can fight an encroaching police state and monolith tech corporations — and look good while doing it!
Hyphen-Labs — a collective of women of color who work to create innovations that mix art, technology, and culture — have several projects on display at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Their NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism booth, on display at the festival’s Virtual Arcade, offered up a mix of tactile and tech-focused projects, including a few that mixed the two worlds. Some are more speculative prototypes, but there were two pieces of wearable tech that seem destined for the real world.
The product closest to market is a scarf that makes use of HyperFace technology. Hyphen-Labs collaborated with HyperFace’s designer, Adam Harvey, to bring the deceptively high-tech concept to market. While seemingly a simple silk scarf, it’s covered in a carefully plotted design that throws off facial recognition scanning devices, thus creating a nondescript shield against surveillance:
“We wanted to start messing with technology because we are being recorded constantly,” Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, one of the group’s founders, told Inverse. “We think that privacy and security is something that we all need to be considering, especially because our privacy is being sold. How we’re communicating and what we’re doing, we have no control over anymore.”
The design scrambles those recording efforts by using “maximally activated false faces based on ideal algorithmic representations of a human face,” according to Harvey’s website. That throws off the software’s ability to distinguish and recognize faces.
There are 1,200 different “faces” on the scarf, so a lot of people wearing the same scarf would overload a surveillance system.
Aguilar y Wedge showed the scarf in action by trying to capture a photo of it on Snapchat. She used the popular dog face filter, and once she put on the scarf, the app began to apply the nose, ears, and tongue to random spots on the scarf. It was slightly terrifying — and soon, it’ll be messing up Snapchats nationwide. Aguilar y Wedge says that the scarf will be made for purchase by the public starting this summer or fall.
Another one of the products that Hyphen-Labs brought was a pair of earrings that had cameras embedded in them. In theory, this would serve the exact opposite purpose of the scarf, but is also designed to resist oppressors.
“People who are seeing problems with police brutality are using their phones to record, and that often puts the person recording in danger as well,” she explained. “So we decided to embed audio and video capabilities into a gold door-knocker earring. It gives you a discreet way of having some control over what is happening.”
On the high-tech end is NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism’s VR experience. Their “NeuroCosmotology lab” — sometimes called the “brain salon,” puts you in several layers of virtual reality. You are in the character of a young black girl, and see “yourself” sitting in a barber’s chair with an Oculus headset over your face. There are several other black women in the salon, which is in and of itself, unfortunately, an accomplishment in VR.
“This is one of the first experiences where we have CGI women of color,” she explained. “We were looking to buy them when we had the idea for the project. But we couldn’t find any that were high resolution, so we had to make them ourselves.”
Thus far, designers have not included many women of color in their game or VR designs, which can in part be attributed to a lack of empathy. That’s the NeuroCosmotology lab experience is meant to challenge. When users are put in the seat of a young black girl, it really does feel like they’ve become that person.
“The whole reason we created all of this is to do scientific research,” Aguilar y Wedge said. “To see if we can increase exposure and decrease prejudice and bias.