Cookie Conversation with Roel Heremans

IMPAKT Exhibition Don't Be Evil

Roel Heremans is a transdisciplinary artist, working with ethical videogames, composed introspection and neurofeedback. The NeuroRight Arcades is a collection of interactive installations that playfully lets us explore a future in which brain-computer interfaces will be everywhere.

You visited this year’s festival Our Terms, Our Conditions for multiple days. What was your experience/what programmes did you enjoy the most?

The exhibition Don’t Be Evil featured a compelling collection of works that intuitively addressed contemporary issues related to new technologies and ethical rules. I was particularly impressed by New Extractivism by Vladan Joler. Once I encountered Dasha Ilina’s Advice Well Taken, it was hard not to notice ‘techlore’ present everywhere in everyday life.

It was exciting to see Chelsea Manning live for the first time. Hearing her share interesting perspectives on being imprisoned and her views on the evolution of technology was truly inspiring.

The exhibition features three NeuroRight Arcades. Could you tell us more about the concept of ‘neurorights’? What inspired you to deal with this topic?

A few years ago, I experimented with stimulating personal imagination via headphones combined with the latest neuro-wearables. Translated, this meant attempting to extract some data from the visitor while they imagined very personal and sensitive information. One day I had a realization that what I was doing could be ethically bizarre, especially if this technology were to evolve (and it indeed has since I started the project).

So I stumbled upon The NeuroRight Initiative, a new ethical framework developed by Dr. Rafael Yuste from Columbia University in New York. They recognized that neuro-wearables could completely change what it means to be a human being, and before there is a commercially available device that can give us god-like powers, it’s crucial to reflect on the ethical dimensions of such devices. I immediately understood the importance of such an ethical framework, especially given how AI is currently changing the world.

So, I wanted to create something that not only advocates for these rights but also uses the imagination of the visitor to try to grasp what these ethical rights mean to the visitor on a personal, philosophical level.

The design of this work as arcade machines can be seen as something of a misdirection: people might initially expect the way they move the joystick or press the buttons to be measured, rather than their brainwaves. What inspired the choice to present this work as classic arcade machines?

There are a few reasons why I chose this form. A speculative ethical charter for a technology that is not fully realized is very abstract. To counter that, I wanted to create a pragmatic form that looks and feels very familiar. Having a dystopian-looking 90s arcade machine with tactile joysticks and buttons has a certain attractiveness to it.

The expectation of playing a fast-paced ‘arcade game’ and actually participating in a meditative experience is something that excited me.

In the theme of the festival, this year we created a series of Fortune Cookies with wishes for the future of technology and privacy. Currently, each visitor to the exhibition gets to take one with them. Which fortune cookie wish would you hope to find?

“Step into an unknown future with confidence in and for humanity.”

Our other Cookie Conversation guests are Renske Leijten, Lotje Beek, Julia Janssen, Dasha Ilina, Caroline Sinders, Guillaume Slizewicz, Jeroen van Loon, Leon van Oldenborgh and Tomo Kihara..

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