Face Values: Exploring Artificial Intelligence

On a digital screen floats blobs containing an eye, nose, and mouth. A seated person with long brown hair is looking at the screen. The screen is surrounded by a gold frame with long black cords / wires around it.

about the exhibition

Presented in Cooper Hewitt’s Process Lab, Face Values: Exploring Artificial Intelligence is an immersive installation that explores the pervasive but often hidden role of facial-detection technology in contemporary society. This high-tech, provocative response investigates the human face as a living data source used by governments and businesses to track, measure, and monetize emotions. Using their own faces to control cameras and software, viewers experience the power and limitations of emotion recognition technologies through playful interactions that encourage awareness of these often hidden tools. Face Values speaks to the growing fascination around facial detection technology, particularly in the U.S., where major companies continue to experiment and push boundaries with this controversial software.

Compilation of black and white imagery. Early mugshots. Phrenology illustration labeling facial features as

Excerpt from photo essay by Jessica Helfand 

The exhibition is curated by Ellen Lupton, senior curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, and features original work by designers R. Luke DuBois and Zachary Lieberman, displayed within a digital environment designed by Matter Architecture Practice. A visual essay by designer and historian Jessica Helfand explores how past and present scientists, criminologists, and beauty experts have tried to quantify the human face. First presented at the 2018 London Design Biennale, the installation has been expanded to include a new work about AI and bias developed by Karen Palmer of ThoughtWorks.




About the collaborators

R. Luke Dubois

R. Luke DuBois explores temporal, verbal and visual structures through music, art and technology. He is the director of the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, where he and his students explore the implications of new technologies for individuals and society. His work expands the limits of portraiture in the digital age by linking human identity to data and social networks.

Zachary Lieberman

Zachary Lieberman uses technology to augment the body’s ability to communicate. He is the creator of openFrameworks, a tool for creative coding, and he is founder of the School for Poetic Computation in Brooklyn. EyeWriter, an eye-tracking interface designed for people with paralysis, won Design of the Year (Interactive) 2010 from the London Design Museum. Lieberman’s work actively explores the human face as a controller and interface for software.

karen palmer

Karen Palmer is a London-based digital filmmaker and storyteller, whose immersive films combine the genres of film, gaming, art, science and technology. Her work has been honored as part of the Digital Dozen Break Throughs in Storytelling 2016, and exhibited at the V&A Museum London, Museum of Modern Art Peru, The Future of Storytelling Festival NY and The Festival of the Mind Sheffield.

Jessica Helfand

Jessica Helfand is founding editor of Design Observer, she is the author of numerous books on design and cultural criticism, including Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media and Visual Culture (2001), Scrapbooks: An American History (2008) and Design: The Invention of Desire (2016). Her new book—Face: A Visual Odyssey (MIT Press, 2019) is available for purchase from SHOP Cooper Hewitt.

Ellen Lupton

Ellen Lupton is a writer, curator, and graphic designer. She is director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, where she also serves as director of the Center for Design Thinking. As curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum since 1992, she has produced numerous exhibitions and books, including Mechanical Brides: Women and Machines from Home to Office (1993), Mixing Messages: Graphic Design and Contemporary Culture (1996), Letters from the Avant-Garde (1996), Skin: Surface, Substance + Design (2002), and The Senses: Design Beyond Vision (2018).

Matter Architecture Practice

Matter Architecture Practice is co-directed by Sandra Wheeler and Alfred Zollinger. Matter has received top honors for its work in exhibition design, which seeks to tell complex stories about data and society through engaging, physically rich environments. Matter was a finalist of the PS1/MoMA Young Architects Program and the winner of AIA New Practices New York, a juried selection recognizing up-and-coming, innovative firms in the city.


Process Lab is made possible by major support from Alice Gottesman.

Featured Image: A visitor interacts with Zachary Lieberman's Expression Mirror in Cooper Hewitt's "Face Values" installation at the 2018 London Design Biennale. Photo David Levene.