Carola Lampe

Tell me what to see


Tell me what to see examines the impact of new technologies on human behavior and experience. Searching for the future, the project focuses on data, algorithms and artificial intelligence.

As vast amounts of data are being created, captured and analyzed, our lives are becoming increasingly controlled by algorithms.

They can save lives, simplify life, structure chaos. However, there is great concern that they may give too much control to  corporations and governments, reinforcing bias, creating filter bubbles, reducing choices and leading to greater social imbalances.

Artificial intelligence is trained on data coming from the past:

 “…Historic prejudices are deeply encoded in our data sets, which are the frameworks on which we build contemporary knowledge and decision making. We will not solve the problems of the present with the tools of the past” (James Bridle, New Dark Age, 2018) 

Because it relies on historical information, the rise of artificial intelligence is amplifying these concerns. Those systems or machines are never neutral and, therefore, prone to error and malfunction.

Moreover, new technologies are developing so rapidly that we increasingly find ourselves in simulated environments. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between real and simulation.

What is reality? Are we creating another reality?

How and what does a machine see? How is it different from our view?

Does data mean knowledge or is it just information?

Tell me what to see revolves around these questions. It explores the juxtaposition of reality and artificiality and the tension between the human and the mechanical.

The images were created with three different approaches: they were shot in the physical space by observing everyday life, artificially constructed in the studio, and generated by AI.

Tell me what to see is an installation which merges photography, AI generated text and sound. It plays with the construction of a “new” reality in an attempt to make the invisible visible.

Carola Lampe is a Berlin-based artist working with photography, installation and performance.

She graduated from Osnabrück University with a master’s in Fine Arts, has studied Dance and Choreography at Laban Centre London and Photography at Ostkreuzschule Berlin. 

Carola’s work has been exhibited at galleries and institutions in Germany, Greece, Italy and Hungary. Her performances have been shown in Germany, the UK and Japan. She has been chosen for the third cycle (2019-2020) of Parallel Photo Platform programme and was shortlisted for the Athens Photo Festival in 2015 and 2017.  Some of her recent photography projects have been featured in Der Greif online exhibition and dienacht magazine.  She is currently interested in the implications of technology on the human being. Observing everyday life and investigating boundaries of what is real and what isn’t, her art shifts between documentary and fiction.

How are
we building
the future with
Artificial Intelligence
and technologies? 

Yuliya: How could technology and Artificial Intelligence define, create or predict the future?

Carola: Some people say this is the age of algorithms now. They are used everywhere, and all the technology is used now already in a lot of ways, it shapes and defines our lives. When talking about technology, I am speaking mainly about Artificial Intelligence, which is aimed to optimize every aspect of our lives. It is used in a lot of places, good and bad: health, warfare, self-driving cars, consumerism. The concern is that it puts too much control in the hands of governments and businesses. A handful of corporations own a lot of data about us. Another concern is that it re-enforces the bias which is put into these systems, it creates filter bubbles, it cuts choices, which means that in fact you are limited to your profile. We are living in a cloud, cloud being a metaphor for the internet. The cloud knows everything about you, about every person who uses the internet, emails, business documents, your memories, your preferences. The negative part of this is that it feels like a surveillance state, that we are under control and that we increasingly often find ourselves in simulated environments.

There are a lot of things which can be automated, but the question is: what about emotion and creativity?

Yuliya: Was that state of awareness of those negative points of AI the starting point of your project?

Carola: Yes, this is the starting point. I work in the technology field and am aware of those developments. I got interested in AI and thought it might have positive effects, but actually after I dealt with the topic more intensively, I saw what drastic consequences the use of AI can have. And I wondered if we really want that. It is prone to be used in a lot of negative ways. That was my starting point, but I have been interested for a long time in exploring the impact new technologies have on the human being and the society. In the end, I am very much interested in the human being and humanity and the impact it has. Can we sustain humanity? In which forms is human life possible? How is the human being or the psyche changing because of the technology?

Yuliya: There is one quote in your statement: “We can’t solve problems with the tools from the past”. What kind of tools should we use to solve our problems?

How can we use all the knowledge about the past, present, future for that purpose ?

Carola: The quote you are referring to speaks of Artificial Intelligence. So, normally AI systems are trained based on data – they learn, they develop their “intelligence” by being fed with data. It is like in an archive which stores data from the past and present, but not from the future, and because it is based on the past, it might be biased. You should also ask: who provides the data, where does the data come from, what information and what kind of data is used? There are many examples of AI systems where some kind of data has been used, and the systems re-enforced the stereotypes, the bias which had already been embedded in that data. Those systems couldn’t be fixed, they needed to be stopped. Those machines are never neutral, you have to be careful what kind of data is being used. And it will also never solve social problems.

Yuliya: What about information and knowledge? Is data just information or also knowledge, and how can we create knowledge out of information?

Carola: In software development there is that saying: “garbage in, garbage out”, which basically says that whatever you put in, you get out.

There is so much data around now that people who work with it don’t know anymore what to do with all of that, because the amounts of data are too vast and also because they can’t distinguish between garbage and valid data – that is a big problem right now.

The data is just information, and you have to make connections in order to create knowledge or meaning.

George: I keep hearing that phrase that data is the new oil, and that data is almost becoming a currency. And that there is that massive obsession in companies trying to figure out what kind of data they have and how to monetize that data.

Carola: Yes, that is right. If you have a lot of data, you are rich. So, all the companies who are among the world’s top five right now collect and own a lot of data. Their business model is based on data.

Søren: But also the idea about information being the oil is a very old truth, in a way. After all, knowledge has always meant power. Also in relation to your work, George – your work also deals with getting knowledge which can be used for power, right? There is definitely a connection there. And I also think it is an important thing, as you said, Carola, to differentiate between fearing the power of the system and how the system is used. What I mean is that technology and all the data collected are not in themselves guilty, these are just systems. It is the power we give the users of these systems that can be scary and uncanny. In that realization also lies the possibility to break with it, but it means that we have to become aware of it.

And in connection with Margherita’s work and mine as well, there is this almost magical aspect of it. The work in a way becomes unfamiliar, and when things become unfamiliar we begin to wonder about them, analyse them and look at them in a different way. As soon as we are very familiar with things, we just accept them and let them go their own way. I think there is a lot of this weird sense of familiarization with technology today. We just accept it as it is and we don’t push it in a manner that would make it suddenly behave in ways we don’t know, that we can’t understand. Because then we really start to wonder. But this is just generally speaking, just to say that people simply accept things.

Your work, Carola, is also about this revealing, unfolding of the technology, very visually.

Yuliya: Is it also about unfolding the future? The more we know about technology which we think is meant to be our future and the more you reveal the technology, the more you somehow unfold the future. So, can you somehow predict what is going to happen, what it will be like?

Carola: I tried to look at the NOW, the present, and imagine the future. All information or all ideas are always rooted in the present or past. When I am imagining the future, I base my ideas on this data, I draw my own conclusions from it and I am also embedded in a certain culture and thinking model. So, I am not sure if one can predict the future, it is very subjective. Only some elements might be predicted. So, with my work I wanted to create some ideas or show some aspects of what the future might look like.

Søren: I also thought about software… I am not an expert in software, but I thought about it in relation to an archive. An archive is always evolving and producing stuff for the future in a way, from the knowledge from the past. Isn’t this the same in software development, isn’t it the case that only very few programs are written from scratch, isn’t it all a conglomerate of code from very different times that you stitch together? For instance computers – aren’t they filled with codes which come from different people, from different parts of the world, from different times, stitched together to make that system function? I think that sometimes it is difficult to say “this is the place where this specific function originated from”, as it has many traces to other parts, too? Isn’t it like this? 

Carola: Yes, in a way it is like that. The software program has been coded by a person or a team, and then it evolves, develops over time. Ever new versions are created, and those developments are based on the existing code. So, yes, you are right – the codebase of a software program has normally been through a lot of phases, where code is from different times and different people. Sometimes, when software exists for a long time, you have a really old legacy code in there, which then might need to be updated as well.

Yuliya: It also embraces this idea of collaboration, because, as we said earlier, archive is not something individual, it is a collective process with different roles. It cannot exist with just one individual, right? It actually re-enforces this idea of an archive as an involving and collaborative practice.

George: Isn’t one of the concerns related to the use of algorithms and AI that somebody has to tell the algorithm what the norm is? There has to be some kind of a basis from which the algorithm decides or makes a decision of any kind. For instance censoring content online, like when Facebook will use algorithms to flag up things that are questionable, that maybe shouldn’t be there, but the algorithm cannot decide on its own, you have to have a human to decide what is allowed or what is not allowed. The algorithm has to be told what is normal and what is not. What is allowed and what isn’t produces these huge ethical questions about our online life. If we start to decide what is allowed and what isn’t, who makes the decision about this? And whose perspective is it? There are huge questions, it seems we need to answer them as a society, as a race, as a species, and talk about what kind of norms of online life there will be. Is that right?

Carola: Yes, that is exactly right. Just to give some context: AI works by combining large amounts of data with fast, iterative processing and intelligent algorithms, allowing the software to learn automatically from patterns or features in the data. So data is the basis of those systems, and of course somebody needs to decide which data is going to be used. That is the problem. It is very much related to the values, morals and culture this human being comes from. This is a huge problem, as it makes everything much more complicated. Do we want to have censorship or not? When does censorship start? What are we allowed to see and what do we get to see? Who decides about this and what might be the agenda?

Yuliya: How do you perceive that idea of a future-oriented archive regarding your work? How does it speak to you? How has this influenced your work ?

Carola: I see data as an archive, and databases are archives in a way, digital ones. I am interested in the future and how systems from the present have an influence on the future and future developments. But I also see the limitations of data, as we are using the data from the present and past. In my work, I searched for images and created images which I felt could give us some idea about the future, maybe I was searching for those patterns. I have produced a lot of images, an archive in search of the future. But the “data” I have found, recorded or produced was from the present, and it is now from the past, and it is also biased, by my selection. So, I struggle a bit with the future terminology.

Yuliya: I would like to develop a little bit on this idea about forensic research on the future through your works. How do you investigate the future? Or how could we investigate the future?

Carola: In a way, I tried to investigate several aspects of our life, I did not concentrate on just one aspect. Sometimes it felt like investigating, searching, but I also made some things up. My work comprised researching the same in different areas of life: environment, human being, computer generated imagery etc., looking into different aspects and then bringing them together and looking for the same kind of ideas in those different aspects, searching for a pattern. But in the end, I am interested in just one question: what is human and humanity, and how might these change