MIT’s Personas

MIT’s research students have produced a digital art work that uses data mining to comment on data mining. The program, called Personas, generates a profile based on what it can find about you on the web. Personas is presented as a techno-god machine, calculating your personality based on what it finds about you on the web. The results and how they are displayed are ambiguous, including statements like ‘aggression’ and ‘illegal’, illustrating how much percentage of these fill up your persona.

The data is purposefully left ambiguous to illustrate how data mining is used by companies and governments to build profiles of people based on algorithms. Particular topics are color-coded differently (politics is black), adding to the ambiguity. It can be interpreted in many ways, and often that interpretation includes information from a person other than yourself. The data makes it scary because it is unclear how the information is defined in each category (video games comes under ‘sports’, for instance), and it is also unclear who might use a profile like this (the Orwellian police system?).

It also produces hilarious results and the blinking lights makes it a fascinating time-waster it is an algorithmic one-way communication. Or to use a quote from another game critic, if games-fun = a light switch, then games-interaction = Personas. This has lead Personas to become a quickly spreading meme and a successful digital art piece, with particular resonance with social networking groups (I heard about this through a Facebook friend rather than a digital artist).

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