Zackie: an AI PDA for reporters

Zackie: an AI PDA for reporters (2018-2019) / algorithmic installation (arduino, thermal printer, custom software, custom electronic circuit, database, archival material)

Zackie: an AI PDA for reporters is an algorithmic interactive installation. It simulates an Artificial Intelligent Digital Personal Assistant (AI PDA) for journalists and reporters. Similarly to other PDAs, it helps its owner to perform specific tasks, facilitating her work. More concretely, it retrieves & analyzes all available data concerning a case and assists the journalist /reporter to write a report on the case.

However, Zackie PDA does not have any particular intelligence. It randomly and uncritically combines information (according to a custom algorithm) from a database populated from the newsfeed of various news sites, official reports, testimonies and opinions on social media. Thus, the report is fake, often self-contradictory or even absurd. 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 common PDAs 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 PDA 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.

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 [1]. In order to criticize this trend, the AI assistant was given the name of a qeer person. The name was inspired in 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. [2, 4, 5] 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.[3] The murder of Zak Kostopoulos was used as a case study to ‘train’ the algorithm of Zackie AI PDA.

[1] Pedro Costa and Luísa Ribas (2018). ‘Conversations with Eliza: on Gender and Artificial Intelligence’, in the proceedings of the 6th Conference on Computation, Communication, Aesthetics & X Madrid, Spain