Black Mirror x Biometric Mirror at Splendour in the Grass

17 September 2019

A panel of speakers at the festival
Dr Niels Wouters, Karl Kruszelnicki, Brenna Harding and Suelette Dreyfus at the panel discussion.

The Splendour in the Grass festival has been an annual destination for Australian music lovers since 2001, attracting close to 45,000 attendees. From 2010, each year’s highly anticipated line-up of international musicians has been complemented by a host of film screenings, comedy sets and panel discussions that form the yearly Splendour Forum. This year, the Human-Computer Interaction and Science Gallery’s Dr Niels Wouters was invited to join a panel on the ethical challenges and implications of innovative digital technologies: ‘Black Mirror x Biometric Mirror’.

The panel, held at this year’s SITG in the North Byron Parklands, also featured actress Brenna Harding, star of sci-fi anthology series ‘Black Mirror’, and Australian science communication icon Dr Karl. The panel was hosted by The University of Melbourne’s Computing and Information Systems researcher and journalist Dr Suelette Dreyfus.

In an intense and colorful 90-minute discussion, the panel explored the sociological impacts of technological advancement, with specific reference to the machine learning algorithms and face scanning technologies Biometric Mirror aims to replicate. Of course, Black Mirror, as a global science fiction television hit, proved a great starting point for the discussion, enabling the public to easily understand how significant the impact of technology on society can be. The panellists debated the ethical implications of new technologies that rely on data collection and algorithmic analysis, while highlighting the importance of enabling wider discussion of these concepts in public debate. Both Dr Karl and Brenna were scanned live by Biometric Mirror during the discussion, before the talk closed with a question and answer session with an engaged audience.

It made a lot of impact on a well-suited audience. Both Karl and Brenna managed to bring the discussion back into the mainstream by connecting it with other urgent, societal and global challenges.

Dr Niels Wouters

Brenna Harding, an advocate for LGBTQI+ rights, identified a crucial issue for emerging technologies that collect human data. Within the context of dystopian futures and societal impacts, she considered what challenges could arise from automated technologies discriminating against vulnerable groups. Using her involvement in Black Mirror as a point of cross-analysis with Biometric Mirror, Brenna enabled a discussion around the ethical considerations of machine-learning technologies and the importance of transparency in application development. 

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki contributed thoughtful reflections on other technologies and innovations that have previously raised concern. From the first surgery, right through to the first robotic surgery, Dr Karl led the group’s discussions around innovation, and the fact that new technologies must go through an initial stage of deep ethical reflection. This process is crucial to establishing a common ground, separating right from wrong, and building in appropriate measures to avoid bias, discrimination, or harm in emerging technologies.

The audience’s final questions covered a range of issues that surfaced during the event, including facial recognition, privacy law and data sets, and the ethical challenges and societal impacts of new technologies.

The panel discussion was a great opportunity to not only add further context to what Biometric Mirror aims to do, but also reflect about it from the perspective of public value and science communication

Dr Niels Wouters
Outside the Biometric Mirror display showing a row of food tents
Outside the Biometric Mirror display at Splendour in the Grass