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Patents uncovered: turning intellectual property into art

Patents uncovered: turning intellectual property into art

Artist Paolo Cirio has mined public patent repositories to "reveal thousands of technologies that conceal the social control, manipulation, and surveillance at play on the Internet".

The work, entitled ​Sociality​, aims to expose laws related to the regulation and monitoring of users by tech companies. Many such patents are designed to provide "nudges" - subtle ways to manipulate human behaviour. As Cirio puts it:  

We regulate the financial sector, we have check and balance in the government, we ban the sale of guns, and toxic chemicals. As information technology impacts society perilously, we must also regulate both centralized and decentralized platforms, infrastructures, and interfaces with inventive, restrictive, and reflexive policies.

The ​Sociality​ website allows the browsing, submission, and public rating of patents alongside information on the companies who filed them. Cirio aims, through blown-up displays of the flowcharts included in each filing, how behaviour is manipulated in accordance with logical flows. Cirio claims that the execution of such patents "can be psychologically damaging and impact social relationships to the point of harming the fabric of society and endangering democracy".

Cirio hosted sessions over the weekend at MIT and Harvard where he presented the work. Give it a trawl yourself at sociality.today and be prepared to be... at least slightly disturbed.

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