Data is the new oil: the world’s most valuable resource. Enabled by the internet and social media, the massive quantities of information being uploaded, aggregated, and exchanged today are crucial to contemporary technologies such as facial recognition. Paglen traces this recent development to its military origins. The artist selected ten photographs from a database of thousands of images taken of military employees in the mid-1990s used to develop Face Recognition Technology (FERET) by the US Department of Defense. Faint letters mark the corners of each person’s eyes, noses, and lips. By comparing the physical features of many different faces, an algorithm could be taught how to “see”—and identify—individuals. The more faces, the smarter the algorithm. Before social media, Paglen shows us, military research had begun to convert human bodies into ever-growing data sets that could power vast systems of surveillance and control.
Gallery label from 2019