Are we ready for digital assistants in our
homes? These devices that listen continuously and can answer our questions,
turn on our lights or turn off the heating show that we are building new
ecosystem structures that symbiotically link human agents with non-human
agents. We may gain in convenience, as boring tasks are delegated, but at what
cost? On the surface, the digital assistant is not a nuisance: it is a small,
almost invisible object that can be placed in the living room or the bedroom.
But in order to function, the device must record voice commands, process them,
analyze them and store them in servers. A simple command to close the curtains
then becomes an operation with high energy costs. In addition, these devices
enter our privacy and often record without our knowledge. According to a report
from Northeastern University (Dubois et al. 2020), "smart speakers"
are reported to accidentally activate up to 19 times a day, recording 43
seconds of audio each time.
The work "Empreintes sonores" seeks
to make visible what is latent: specifically, accumulations of sound data. In
the installation, a Google Home Mini listens discreetly and records
continuously. The captured sounds are replayed in a random way in the 4
loudspeakers and mix to finally end up in a sound dump - an imaginary virtual
space in which would be found all the unused sounds that have been previously
recorded by the digital assistants.
At a certain threshold, a fragment of sound is recorded,
and the sound wave is projected on the wall, as if the sound were frozen in
time and space. A motion sensor tracks the movements and allows the sound wave
to be explored. Rather than letting the sound move towards the ears, it is
rather, on the contrary, our ears that must move to travel through the sound:
the latter is freed from its ephemeral and singular nature to inscribe itself
in space, which allows us to perceive, for an instant, the sound imprint in the
The participant is thus led to experience the
continuous sound capture and to see the traces of it. The digital assistant is
no longer this small anodyne object that disappears into the background, but an
agent that secretly listens and manages continuous data.