I.A. Suzie

Lauren Lee McCarthy and David Leonard

With millions of aging citizens, we are facing a crisis of care. When confronted with the prospect of caring for aging relatives, artificial intelligence systems like Alexa and Google Home can augment care and stand in for the presence of family, friends, and medical providers. But viewing these systems as utilitarian devices obscures the human responsibilities they carry. Will they be able to serve as advocates for the aging population?

In a one week durational performance, we embodied the role of A.I., functioning as a remote virtual caregiver in 80-year-old Mary Ann’s home in North Carolina. We were able to watch over Mary Ann 24 hours a day, speak to her, and fully control the lights and appliances within her home via a custom smart home system we created. Throughout the process, we documented the relationship with an array of 360 cameras capturing panoptic views into various rooms in the home.

The film documents this performance, and the relationship that developed between Mary Ann and the virtual care system we became, which she named I.A. Suzie. I.A. Suzie puts the viewer into the role of virtual care system, giving a direct lens into the ethical dilemmas that are rapidly being codified into artificial intelligence. This interactive film created from a real-life scenario asks us to confront our relationship with AI partners at the end of life.

This project was supported in part by a Journalism 360 Award from the Google News Initiative, Knight Foundation and Online News Association, and a grant from UCLA.