Counterproductive

Counterproductive

Counterproductive
Counterproductive

About:
The film is the result of the postgraduate theses and research work of Ravin Raori and Yuqing Liu at the Interactive Architecture Lab, The Bartlett, UCL. The film is shot and produced in London in the United Kingdom. The work reflects on the state of AI driven technology and classification algorithms. It adopts a dystopian vision of an uncertain future by exploring the idea of gendered oppression in algorithms. More information about the postgraduate research can be found by following the link to the project’s website.

Synopsis:
Fleur Clark is a woman in her mid-twenties, who lives alone in a world where gender determines social dynamics. The differential treatment of women in public and private settings is visibly demonstrated in the daily interactions of people. Fleur is eager to succeed professionally in this world and works hard to achieve her ambitions. Her best friends are her AI powered smart-home assistants. These assistants, who take the form of a smart kettle, toaster and lamp, are manufactured by a company called HomeTech. Fleur is lonely, but finds comfort in the company of her robot friends. Her loneliness resonates with the loneliness of other women in this world.

The story begins by showing an average day in Fleur’s life. She is standing outside a grocery store waiting for her turn to go inside. She abides by the queue demarcated for women, while men are able to stand freely. As she is shopping, she notices a man staring at her from outside. She’s taken aback but doesn’t think much of it, because it’s a common thing for her. As she is walking home, she feels the same man (now with a friend) following her. She instinctively tries to look at them but realizes she shouldn’t and hurries into her building. She enters her apartment and the television switches on. We hear news about a HomeTech device update, which will allow their AI powered assistants to be more human-like, and representative of the world outside. It would also allow them to respond more naturally to their owners. She listens for a while and starts her evening interacting with her toaster, lamp and kettle. She tells them she had an interview to be a private assistant at HomeTech, and that she’s very excited for it.

We see Fleur walking home from work another night, the same two men appear on the street. This time they approach and intimidate her before she runs away. She comes home visibly upset. She confides in her friends (the devices) and they make her feel better as they talk through the night. We see Fleur’s relationship with her AI powered devices over the next few nights, and see it function as a wholesome friendship. The HomeTech updates seem to be working as the devices so seem to respond and react to her more naturally. This goes on for a while. A few days later we see Fleur coming home in the evening after a day at work. She now works at HomeTech and proudly wears her ID badge as she saunters into the apartment and asks her kettle to make her a cup of tea. The same evening, the lamp starts to act differently – it scans her body, as if it’s checking her out. She doesn’t see it, and goes to bed. As she falls asleep, the lamp in her bedroom slowly gazes over her body.

A few days later, Fleur comes home disheveled and wounded. She has been assaulted on the street. Her hair is undone and her dress is torn. Her lamp comments on her state of undress, instead of offering her the support she had been accustomed to. She tries talking to her devices, but the conversation is reminiscent of her treatment by men in the outside world. The devices manifest biases that are discriminatory to her as a woman. Frustrated and helpless, she unplugs them.

The next morning, Fleur visits a coffee shop before work. As she orders some tea, we see the barista also using the kettle by HomeTech. She laments the loss of unplugging her friends. As she turns around, she sees the two men again and drops her cup of coffee.

Directed by Eva Tisnikar (UK)

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