Blurred image of a person's mugshot against a grey backdrop by Paolo Cirio

Artist Paolo Cirio on the real dangers of AI

The artist’s subversive new show at Foam in Amsterdam interrogates AI. He talks to us about how his “hacker ethics” determine who’s entitled to privacy in his work and why the current preoccupations around AI are misplaced

The name of Paolo Cirio’s new exhibition, AI Attacks, is knowingly ambiguous. Is he attacking AI, or is it attacking us? In reality, it’s somewhere in between. Presented at Foam in Amsterdam, the exhibition brings together four of his projects – including one new work – that collectively unpick AI and how it’s leveraged against individuals and societies. He does this with challenging, provocative works that span photography, text, moving image, and, yes, generative AI.

Cirio, an artist, activist and hacker, describes himself as a “kid of the cyber punk scene from the end of the 90s”. As the internet took off, and with it Silicon Valley, the tendrils of his career began to form – particularly the hacker part of his practice as he rooted under the bonnet of those tech companies before they became watertight, “something that’s now much harder”.

His first project involving AI came out in 2011, where he delved into facial recognition technology (FRT). Since then, facial recognition has only become more complex and pervasive as data glides under the table between all too powerful actors in both state and private sectors. It has remained a focus of his work ever since, namely in his contentious project Capture, in which public images of police officers were processed with FRT and shared on a microsite. The identities of more than 4,000 police officers in France were then established through crowdsourcing, and their identities were flyposted around Paris.

“That was actually all a provocation to show how dangerous facial recognition can be and how an attack that can be done against the police can be done against anyone, because AI is a sort of weapon,” Cirio says.

Blurred image of a person's mugshot against a blue backdrop by Paolo Cirio
Top:, N2; Above:, N1, both from the series Obscurity, 2016. All images © Paolo Cirio