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  • Date
    02 AUGUST 2023
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    Technology, eternity and firewalls. An interview with Yuen Hsieh

    Hello Yuen, to kick things off I’d ask you how you would introduce yourself to Red Eye’s community.

    ☆Hello, Red Eye's community, my name is Yuen Hsieh, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce myself to you all. I am a director, visual artist, and DJ, originally from Taiwan but educated in London. My artistic journey began at Central Saint Martins as a fine art student and continued at the Royal College of Art to study Design Interaction and Visual Communication. Growing up in a multicultural environment, I have always been captivated by the intersection of different cultures and modern technology's impact on art and creativity. As a visual artist, I am deeply passionate about utilizing technology to foster dialogue and understanding among diverse backgrounds. I believe in challenging stereotypes and biases through my work, opening up new perspectives and encouraging inclusivity. Over the past decade, I have immersed myself in the world of video directing, embarking on an incredible journey filled with fascinating projects and collaborations with exceptional individuals.☆

    Your whole body of work is quite impressive, to be honest, but I’m particularly intrigued by your Digital Afterlife Agency Program project which imagines, in a not-so-distant future, the existence of an agency promising, and providing, eternal existence through the digitalization of individual identities. One of the reasons I found myself attracted to this project is because it doesn’t look like an experiment in imagination, but more a forecast. Can you tell us more about the project?

    Thank you for your kind words and your interest in the Digital Afterlife Agency Program. ^______^

    Yeah, the project delves into the realm of speculation about the future, but it also draws inspiration from existing technological advancements and societal trends. The concept of digitalizing individual identities and offering the promise of eternal existence is a fascinating exploration of our evolving relationship with technology and the pursuit of immortality.


    (˚ˎ 。7



    The Digital Afterlife Agency Program envisions a world where individuals have the opportunity to extend their lives in a virtual reality setting after their physical demise. By signing an agreement with the agency, clients grant access to their digital footprint, including social media accounts, emails, photos, and other online traces. This data is collected and processed by an advanced artificial intelligence known as SAM (Simulated Adaptive Matrix), which learns from the individual's experiences and creates an afterlife report.

    The afterlife report serves as a foundation for individuals to make choices regarding their virtual existence. They can opt to relive their lives, rectify regrets, or pursue unrealized dreams indefinitely. The program presents a second chance to shape their identities and fulfill their desires in the digital realm.☆

    While the concept of digital immortality may seem fantastical, it touches upon broader themes and technological advancements that we are witnessing today. Our lives are increasingly intertwined with digital platforms, and the collection and utilization of personal data are prevalent. The Digital Afterlife Agency Program takes this trend to an extreme, presenting a future where our digital footprints can be harnessed to recreate our identities in a simulated afterlife.

    Furthermore, the project explores the age-old fascination with immortality, examining how different cultures, religions, and mythologies have approached the subject. It raises profound questions about the nature of existence, the boundaries of life and death, and the ethical implications of eternal digital existence.

    Through the Digital Afterlife Agency Program, I aim to spark conversations about our evolving relationship with technology, the potential consequences of advancing AI systems, and the complex philosophical and ethical considerations surrounding life, death, and the digital realm. It is a project that invites viewers to reflect on the implications of our digital footprints and the possibilities that technology may hold for the future of human existence. ─── ⋆⋅☆·⋆ ──

    The narratological twist by which the corporation starts to exert dominion over the identities of its customers shows how there are a lot of economic interests behind this pursuit of eternity and how, with the increasingly intimate relationship with technology, the main issue we will have to face in the nearest future is a firewall one. With technology being every day more integrated into our lives and with devices acting as “natural” prostheses of our bodies, how can we filter what technological systems serve us?

    The narratological twist in the Digital Afterlife Agency Program highlights the potential economic interests and power dynamics that can emerge within the pursuit of digital immortality. As our lives become more intertwined with technology and our reliance on devices grows, the issue of maintaining control over our own identities and personal data becomes paramount.

    The concept of a "firewall" in this context becomes crucial. It refers to the need for individuals to establish boundaries and mechanisms to filter and regulate the technological systems that serve us. Here are a few considerations and strategies that can help address this challenge: ˗ˏˋ ★ˎˊ˗

    Data Ownership and Consent: individuals need to have ownership and control over their personal data. Implementing regulations and legal frameworks that ensure informed consent and allow individuals to determine how their data is used and shared can provide a foundation for protecting personal information.

    Privacy Settings and Security Measures: Utilizing robust privacy settings and implementing strong security measures can help individuals maintain control over their digital identities. This includes regularly reviewing and adjusting privacy settings on social media platforms, using encryption and secure communication channels, and being mindful of the data shared online.

    Digital Literacy and Education: Promoting digital literacy and education is crucial in empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their digital interactions. By understanding the capabilities and potential risks of different technologies, individuals can navigate the digital landscape more effectively and make conscious choices that align with their values and interests.

    Transparency and Accountability: Holding technology companies accountable for their data collection and usage practices is essential. Transparency regarding data collection, processing, and sharing should be a priority, enabling individuals to make informed decisions about the technologies they engage with.

    Ethical Design and Human-Centered Technology: Encouraging the development and adoption of technologies that prioritize ethical design principles and human-centered approaches can help mitigate the risks associated with technology domination. Technologies should be designed with the well-being and agency of individuals in mind, offering user-friendly interfaces and providing options for customization and control.

    Digital Detox and Mindful Consumption: Practicing digital detox and being mindful of our digital consumption habits can help establish a healthier relationship with technology. Setting boundaries, taking breaks from digital devices, and cultivating offline experiences can contribute to a more balanced and intentional engagement with technology.

    By actively engaging in these strategies and advocating for responsible technology practices, individuals can strive to maintain agency over their own identities and filter the technological systems that serve them, ensuring that technology remains a tool that enhances their lives rather than controls them. (¬_¬")

    Connected to the previous question: even if they comprise much more, personal identities are mostly a matter of memories and we are going through a significant shift in our relationship with those. The past does not belong to the past: think of the “Memories” function on our iPhones or the on Facebook where old posts resurface and can be commented on, modified or shared all over again. The memory seems to be under assault with these huge companies trying to keep extracting values from our past. How does your project relate to this paradigmatic shift in our relationship with time?

    ⭑The paradigmatic shift in our relationship with time, particularly regarding the preservation and manipulation of memories by large technology companies, is a significant aspect that the Digital Afterlife Agency project addresses. The project engages with the concept of memory and its evolving nature in the digital age, raising important questions about the implications and consequences of preserving and controlling our past.

    In the digital era, memories have become increasingly intertwined with technology. Platforms like Facebook and functions like "Memories" on iPhones allow us to revisit and interact with our past in ways that were previously unimaginable. However, this shift also brings forth concerns regarding privacy, ownership, and the manipulation of our personal histories.

    The Digital Afterlife Agency project explores the concept of preserving memories within a simulated afterlife. It examines the idea of perpetuating one's existence by utilizing digital data to recreate and relive past experiences. By offering individuals the opportunity to revisit and potentially alter their memories, the project engages with the evolving relationship between memory and technology.

    One of the key aspects of the project is the agency's access to clients' digital footprints, including social media posts, emails, and other online traces. This highlights the potential exploitation of personal memories by corporations, raising questions about the extraction of value and control over our past. The project aims to stimulate discussions around the ethical implications of such practices and the potential consequences of allowing companies to have dominion over our memories.

    Through the Digital Afterlife Agency, the project invites viewers to reflect on the profound shifts in our relationship with time and memory in the digital age. It prompts us to consider the consequences of allowing technology companies to commodify and manipulate our personal histories. Additionally, it encourages conversations about the importance of individual ownership and agency over our memories, and the need to establish safeguards and ethical frameworks to protect our personal narratives from exploitation.

    Ultimately, the project serves as a catalyst for contemplating the evolving nature of memory, our relationship with time, and the challenges we face in navigating the preservation and manipulation of our personal histories in an increasingly digital and interconnected world.✮‧₊˚

    What is your relationship with AI? Is it a tool you’re interested in? How do you see it evolving?

    ♱As a creator, my relationship with AI is one of great interest and exploration.AI can be utilized as a tool to augment and amplify human creativity, providing unique insights, generating novel ideas, and assisting in the execution of artistic visions. AI opens up a wide range of creative avenues. I believe that AI will continue to evolve and play an increasingly significant role in the creative industry. We are likely to witness advancements in AI algorithms, making them more sophisticated, versatile, and capable of understanding and replicating human-like creative processes.

    However, it is important to approach the development and deployment of AI responsibly and ethically. Addressing concerns such as bias, transparency, and accountability in AI systems is essential to ensure that they serve as tools for human expression and advancement without compromising our values and principles. I see AI evolving to become an increasingly valuable and integral part of the creative process, empowering artists and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of art and expression. ଘ(˵╹-╹)━☆

    Subcultures and electronic music constitute two major influences in your work. How do you integrate them into your creative process? Do they act as a visual reference? Do you imbue their ethos into your work?

    Subcultures and electronic music indeed have a significant impact on my work as a director, visual artist, and DJ. They serve as rich sources of inspiration and inform my creative process in various ways.

    Electronic music, as both a sonic and cultural influence, plays a significant role in shaping my creative process. The energy, rhythms, and textures of electronic music inspire me to explore innovative and experimental approaches in my visual work. They provide me with a wellspring of inspiration, aesthetics, and values that inform my work, allowing me to create visually dynamic and conceptually rich experiences that push boundaries and invite viewers to explore new realms of perception.

    As a DJ and promoter from AUDIO RIOT (guerrilla party), I actively participate in the electronic music scene, engaging with its culture and community around Asia in Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo. I would love to throw more parties around the world this year for sure. ᶻ 𝗓 𐰁๋࣭ ⭑˙ᵕ˙

    It helps me connect with new artists and musicians around the world, curate the right atmosphere, and bring a unique perspective to my creative projects. Most importantly I want to make more friends and share different cultures and lifestyles as a friend.

    ° ˛ ° ˚* Π____˚ ˛

    ✩ ˚˛˚*/____/\。✩˚ ˚˛

    ♡ ˚ ˛˚˛˚| 田田|門| ˚ ˚

    Anyway, the music scene and party act as visual references, inspiring aesthetics and styles, and also imbuing my work with their ethos of individuality, nonconformity, inclusivity, and freedom. By integrating these influences, I strive to create visually captivating experiences that resonate with audiences and celebrate the transformative power of subcultures and electronic music culture.

    ૮₍˶Ó﹏Ò ⑅₎ა

    Interview by Davide Andreatta

    Image Courtesy of Yuen Hsieh