BERLIN · Julian Oliver
is a critical engineer
from New Zealand based in Berlin. his projects and the occasional paper have been presented at many museums, international electronic-art events and conferences, including the Tate Modern, Transmediale, Ars Electronica, FILE and the Japan Media Arts Festival. recently he presented the Transparency Grenade
at PLATOON KUNSTHALLE Berlin
. we took the opportunity to ask Julian few questions.
MATEJ: the technology is deeply embedded in our society and vice versa. what is the biggest threat and what is the biggest opportunity of this interdependence?
JULIAN: the largest threat we face in relation to technology is our dependence on systems that we do not understand, let alone control.misunderstood communications infrastructure, in particular, is actively being used to take advantage of people both in and out of democratic societies. most internet users are giving themselves away but don't know how and to whom. social networking services in particular are something to be wary of: we wouldn't write a diary or a hand written love letter and give it to an American businessman to look after, yet we do this online all the time, without much thought.
the effects of our unchecked openness to corporations and governments are just starting to be felt. today companies are emailing women only recently pregnant, women that have hardly told a soul. insurance agents and potential employers are eager to know about us and so spy on us social networks - perhaps they even just pay for the data outright. activist groups are being monitored by their service providers against constitutional rights.
such stories are in the news every day. rather than self-censoring however we have an opportunity to protect our basic human right to privacy, speech and the freedom of association - but only if we're willing to learn a little. by understanding how technology works, even only in basic terms, we're then able to act critically and in our own interests; anonymity and cryptography tools are a good start, alongside studying up a little on the politics of the internet. defend your right to be strange and to be a stranger!
MATEJ: you are developing tools, which not just rise the awareness, but can be also easily misused since they are open source. what is your ethical position on it?
JULIAN: a kitchen knife has often been used to kill; one innately places trust in others when in the company of potential weapons.the tools and techniques i've used in some of my projects are already in use by spies and federal agents - network packet capture is as old as networking itself. with regards to my grenade project, i'm just getting away from the White Van cliche of surveillance and putting it into a small, iconic, hand-held package.
indeed the Transparency Grenade is effectively a weapon and as such is designed as an object of anxiety, inciting distrust in one's technologically mediated environment - the fear of the leak. our dependence on data is so great today that whole organisations have been seen to crumble with the smallest blob of data making it's way into unintended recipients. considered another way, imagine the damage done by a disgruntled Google employee, leaking a few terabytes of GMail. companies, marriages, friendships might collapse. this distrust, this Healthy Paranoia, is what i'm interested in engendering.
MATEJ: what is the main idea behind Critical Engineering?
JULIAN: the Critical Engineer considers engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. it is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.
MATEJ:in this complex world one relies on routines and "trusted" systems. what has to happen that people (not just the artists & academics) will start to critically rethink their everyday use and relation to the technology - to make it dramatic: does it has to happen an "I, robot" movie scenario?
the only way to empower here is to learn a little about how our engineered environment actually works. only then can we understand what's at stake (from a position of techno-political subjectivity) and begin to make informed choices in defense of our basic human rights.
MATEJ: why are you not using Facebook?
JULIAN: i'm not an American. i don't want to give personal data about me and my friends to a corporation under obligation to a government I didn't elect.