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When digital art puts itself at the service of the climate

It is bright red, flashes, scrolls numbers in all directions.

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When digital art puts itself at the service of the climate

It is bright red, flashes, scrolls numbers in all directions. At first glance, it is difficult to understand the meaning of this work. The loudspeakers placed on either side of the room in which it is exhibited broadcasting climate-sceptical speeches and counter-arguments set the stage.

In fact, the artist-researcher Gaëtan Robillard, teacher at the Imac-Esiee engineering school of Gustave-Eiffel University, located on the Marne-la-Vallée campus, wants with this exhibition, entitled “Critical Climate Machine », shed light on the mechanisms of disinformation on climate change.

The sculpture broadcasts in real time messages collected on the social network X (formerly Twitter). “The redder it is, the hotter it gets and the more fake news there is,” summarizes its author. Because each number represents a type of message. “I appropriated artificial intelligence to help understand this impressive flow of online data on the climate distributed on social networks.” Helped by cognitive science researchers, he trained artificial intelligence to identify and classify this information.

Also read: Will artificial intelligence save the planet?

Based on the Twitter accounts (at the time of its conception in 2020) of several American think tanks belonging to the climate skeptic movement, the artist-researcher established a taxonomy of 17 types of disinformation, to which he assigned a code .“We can group them into five main categories: the denial of climate change, the denial of its anthropogenic origin, the denial of its seriousness, defeatism (measures will not change anything) and attacks against science, considered to be not reliable,” explains Gaëtan Robillard, who specifies that the last two types are currently the most represented in the United States.

The sound system of the work was produced in partnership with IRCAM and students from a high school and the Gustave-Eiffel University. The latter indeed contributed to this creative process by participating in the Refutation Game, a card game during which everyone must identify the type of disinformation read in the drawn card and respond to it. Contradictory dialogues were thus developed and recorded with their voices. “It allowed me to strengthen my critical thinking,” says Lætitia Ngaha, one of the students who participated in the project, while she was at the international high school in Noisy-le-Grand.

Also read: “We emit sixty times more carbon by making a query on ChatGPT than on Google”

The installation, exhibited since 2021 at the Akbank Sanat in Istanbul, at the ZKM Media Art and Technology Center in Karlsruhe (Germany), at the 6th Conference on Adapting to Climate Change in Dublin in 2023, at the Palace of Tokyo, at the Center Pompidou, at the Biennale Experimenta in Grenoble or, at the beginning of 2024, at the Gustave-Eiffel University, targets a wide audience.

It is part of the MediaFutures project, a European innovation hub bringing together start-ups, artists and researchers using data to combat disinformation and has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 framework program via a call for projects . The perfect opportunity for Breton Gaëtan Robillard, former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Laval in Canada, who had already worked on the mathematical modeling of waves, to “take a step towards cognitive sciences linked to media”.

Also read: Xavier Niel: “The value that will arise from artificial intelligence will be colossal”

Nominated for the Starts 2023 Prize, the Critical Climate Machine won the British Computer Society (BCS) Futures Awards, awarded by the Lumen Prize for Art and Technology in October 2023.

Its author, who now has a database of 90,000 messages, wonders about the advisability of publishing them to allow the social sciences to study them. Which raises ethical questions of anonymization. As for the Game of Refutation, it has just taken its first steps outside the exhibition, by being loaned to a toy library. An open publishing project is underway.

Society, health, environment, education, energy

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