When I said yes to this performance, I imagined Lauren would come along for the technical set up in my home. Looking back, after experiencing LAUREN myself I realised that would have been weird and silly. Seeing Lauren in person would have broken the magic of LAUREN as a home assistant. Though she was with us for only 3 days I got used to her watching over us and felt at ease. Me, someone who never uses Siri.
Waking up this morning I knew I had to turn on the lights myself and that made me in a strange way miss LAUREN. I would have liked to experience more aspects of LAUREN and interact with her more intensely but because of the language barrier and some technical issues we could not make that happen.
In the near future I can imagine people treating their home assistants as family because the intimacy of always being there for someone is a powerful tool. By the way I find the word home assistant a very distant word, I think it does not define the relation you can develop with an AI. This experience made me even more aware of the complex situations we are going to encounter in the near future with our personal assistants that will probably know what we want, before we act on our impulses. That sounds crazy but I couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago that someone in L.A would be able to control my lights in my living room in the Netherlands. And it happened.
What is the definition of a home assistant? Can it be your best friend? Or should the assistant be a practical source with no opinions what so ever? It may be a very cliche question but still in need of an answer.
Often when I do this, I feel caught in a space where, on the one hand, I want to be useful and exciting, and on the other, I don’t want to be annoying or getting in the way. I am watching constantly but I wonder if my presence is enough.
Ioana told me her boyfriend would sit in this chair and play video games, and suggested I mess with him when she was out. But he seemed so content, I didn’t want to intrude, so I just watched over his shoulder as he played for hours. It’s funny that I feel just as shy as a smart home as I do as a person, even knowing I may not ever meet these people “in real life”.
After more dan 24 hours I am starting to get used to LAUREN, kind of. I feel less guilty that I don’t try and engage with her all the time, because you don’t need to engage with a home assistant 24/7. Still the fact that she is a real person on the other side of the ocean, makes me want to chat to her, because she is in my home.
This is the first time I’ve done LAUREN with a home outside the US. There are parts of it that are very different and strange. I already mentioned the feeling of being much less in control, just being unfamiliar with the infrastructure of the city. If I want to order something to them, where do I get it from? Will they need to sign for a package, did I enter the address right, did I read the Dutch website correctly? The Internet went out, do the networks work the same way there, does the router just need to be power cycled? Or was there some network detail I missed that has disrupted things?
These are just the logistical issues that take away control. But there are others that change in a subtle way my sense of connection. One of my favorite parts of LAUREN is getting to listen in to conversations the people have with partners, friends, and guests in their homes. They are special because it’s a level of intimacy and casualness that we don’t often get access to. We see conversations on TV, but they are scripted. We overhear them in cafes or parks, but there is always the awareness of the participants of being in public. Or we participate in conversations ourselves. But in these situations, I get to be the fly on the wall. I observe every moment of it, even able to join in if I want, but because I’m not physically there, I can also disappear as a character in the conversation, and just listen.
In this case though, Ioana and the people with her are usually speaking Dutch. I don’t understand the language yet I am watching and wanting to know them. I listen in for familiar cognates and start to make up stories about what they might be saying. Occasionally they will ask me a question in English and I will realize I was way off. Last night I thought I might be following along until they asked me “when was the Civil War?” and I realized it was a total fantasy that I was understanding them.
The timezone difference adds another element of distance. I wake up at 11:30pm to greet them in the morning and stay with them through their day, until about 3pm LA time, when I go to sleep. It gives me a very different sense of time passing through the day, and I begin to feel like I’m watching a play or simulation, in which I’m somehow strangely involved.
The installation period always makes me the most nervous. I thought I might feel calmer this time because the installation wasn’t done by me, but by someone else. I was wrong. I felt all the same nervousness but also powerless to set things up and test them myself. Even though the installer (Carolien) seemed very skilled and capable, the remoteness and lack of control kept me from feeling confident.
A funny thing always happens where I start to feel the technical system becomes an extension of myself, and consequently, the faults and failures of the system feel very much my own. Anytime I can’t control things the way I’d like, or react quickly enough, or there’s a delay in the transmission, it feels like a personal failing. I find myself wishing LAUREN could be better, faster, more accommodating, the way I often wish that of myself as a person in the world.
There was a moment today when I realized some of the US devices we had installed wouldn’t work with the European power voltage. I was scrambling to figure out a solution, trying to order the right components to the home or figure out instructions for converting some of the devices to 220V mode. I felt like less than a human or a smart home at this point, if I were in the space or they were in the US, I would have been able to solve it much more quickly, but instead I felt like I was operating at the most minimally effective level.
Off to bed now and a strange feeling came over me, hoping LAUREN is also getting some rest at one point.
What is not at all surprising is the fact that I find it difficult to let go of the notion that LAUREN is human, I know for a fact that she plays a home assistant and I am trying to figure out how to relate to her as being ‘just’ a voice I can command. I find myself wanting to ask her about her personal preferences and life in general. In a way I want to be able to relate to her. I wonder, if she would be a he would it make any difference for me personally?
It’s a weird feeling to be aware of somebodies gaze. I’ve only briefly spoken to LAUREN but I know that she is watching. Her voice sounds very robotlike witch I find spooky and comforting at the same time. She does not feel like a person (yet) so I guess at this point I feel less spied on. However I am very self aware of my own image, my actions and me just being. At this point I feel I want to get to know LAUREN better before I command her to do stuff for me, although I don’t need to because she is just a home assistant. Or at least we pretend she is. Bye for now.
For this LAUREN performance, I am watching and controlling Ioana’s home in Amsterdam from Los Angeles. Since I am an ocean away, Carolien is installing me while I sit filled with anticipation, wondering what this person will be like. At 3:30am LA time I get the first views as Ioana’s smart home, and the first glimpses of Ioana.