Zackie: a PIA for reporters

Zackie: a PIA for reporters (2018-2019) / interactive installation (arduino, thermal printer, custom software, custom electronic circuit, database, archival material)

Zackie PIA is an interactive installation that simulates a Personal Intelligent Assistant (PIA) for reporters. Zackie PIA assists journalists /reporters to write a report on their case by retrieving & analyzing all available data concerning the specific case.

However, Zackie PIA does not have any particular intelligence. It randomly and uncritically combines information from online resources (news, official reports, opinions on social media, e.t.c.). Thus, the report is fake and often self-contradictory. The work reflects on the circulation of fake news, the uncritical reproduction of information and the construction of dominant narratives by authorities and mainstream media.

The shape of the device imitates commercial PIAs that usually appear as cylindrical boxes (e.g. Amazon’s Alexa). However, there is a major difference at the interaction design: instead of answering orally, Zackie PIA prints its answers on paper, so that a tangible archive of all reports is created, which is always accessible. Thus, the inconsistency between current and past reports can be easily traced.

Moreover, the installation critically reflects on the fact that digital assistants and chatbots are often given feminine names (such as Eliza, Alexa, Nina, Silvia or Denise) and display feminine attributes thus reinforcing normative notions of gender and femininity. In order to criticize this trend, the AI assistant was given the name of a qeer person. The PIA was named after Zak Kostopoulos, an LGBTQ+ activist and qeer artist performing as drag queen Zackie Oh.

Kostopoulos was murdered on 21st September 2018 in the center of Athens. The crime was followed by an unprecedented operation of covering up the murder and misinforming the public by spreading fake, contradictory, and ever-changing news reports through mainstream media channels, personal blogs, and social media. The murder of Zak Kostopoulos was used as a case study to ‘train’ the algorithm of Zackie PIA.

Exhibitions:

For a refusal to return to normalcy. Group exhibition, Sphinx online edition. November 2020

Emerging Diversities group exhibition. Xouth Festival @ Artens. Athens, December 2019