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 acts provocatively. It aggregates all the fake news about a given case from online resources, such as news portals and social media posts. The PIA’s algorithm stores the collected fake news in a database, and then it combines fragments of the aggregated content, according to a custom algorithm. As a result, the final report is fake and 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 design of the device imitates commercial PIAs that often appear as cylindrical boxes. However, there is a significant difference in the interaction design: instead of responding orally, Zackie PIA prints its responses on paper, creating a tangible and always accessible archive of all reports. The print archive facilitates the tracing of inconsistencies between current and past reports.

Moreover, the installation critically reflects on gender bias embedded in AI systems. 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 queer person. The PIA was named after Zak/Zackie Kostopoulos, an LGBTQIA+ activist and queer artist, performing as the drag queen Zackie Oh.

Kostopoulos was murdered in 2018 in broad daylight in the centre of Athens. The crime was followed by an unprecedented dissemination of fake, contradictory, and constantly changing news reports via mainstream and social media. The murder of Zak Kostopoulos was used as a case study to ‘train’ the algorithm of Zackie PIA.


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