Ring™ Log

Mark Sample

Ring™ Log is an experiment in speculative surveillance. The project is a nod to Amazon’s Ring™ doorbells, popular motion-activated high definition surveillance cameras. Once triggered, Ring™ cameras transmit video to the Ring™ app and Ring™ servers, where the video footage is preserved for future viewing.

What happens when Amazon begins using AI object detection to identify, categorize, and report what the Ring™ camera sees? Human viewers would no longer be required to make sense of the video footage. What would Ring™ see? What would Ring™ report? And what would happen when the software or hardware fails, as software and hardware always does? Ring™ Log imagines such a night in the near future: Halloween, October 31, 2020.

Until recently, most mass surveillance programs were run by governments: PRISM, ECHELON, X-Keyscore, and others. But relying on the state to surveil is old-school. The proper way to surveil in the age of neoliberalization is to (1) cede what the government used to do to private corporations and (2) outsource the surveillance to ourselves. This is exactly what the Ring™ doorbell/camera systems do.

At the same time that we willingly offer ourselves and our homes to the tech oligopolies like Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook, those very same companies are aggressively pursuing artificial intelligence programs to make sense of the massive amounts of data they extract from their users. Thanks to deep learning neural networks, voice recognition, facial recognition, object detection, and even gait recognition are just some of the new AI-dependent technologies that have quickly become part of everyday life.

While Ring™ Log critiques corporate surveillance, it is also a tribute to contemporary suburban life. The work is inspired by (and contains Easter Eggs of) a number of creepy neighborhoods over the years, both fictional and real: The Twilight Zone, The Stepford Wives, Night Vale, and just about every other post on NextDoor, where neighbors love to share their Ring videos.

About the Artist

Mark Sample is an Associate Professor of Digital Studies at Davidson College, a liberal arts college located just north of Charlotte, North Carolina. His teaching and research focuses on digital culture, electronic literature, and videogames. He co-authored 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 (MIT Press), a collaboratively written exploration of creative computing and the Commodore 64. His most recent work combines creative coding with critiques of digital culture. Ring™ Log is an experiment in speculative surveillance. Two Emoji: A Modern Epic of Love and Betrayal is a playful look at storytelling through emoji. Other works include Masks, a Twine game inspired by the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, An End of Tarred Twine, an absurdist procedurally-generated, nonlinear hypertext version of Moby Dick with over 2,000 lexia and 6,000 links, and Content Moderator Sim, a workplace horror game that puts you in the role of a subcontractor whose job is to keep your social media platform safe and respectable.