The Persona Lab

Speculative Design

My senior thesis investigated the relationships between physical body and virtual persona in the age of ubiquitous computing. I proposed a persona building and tasting experience that gives people an opportunity to re-evaluate their new virtual identities in a future context.

11/20-04/21

Role:

Research

Concept

Modeling

Visual Design

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Living in the age of spectacles, we behave and perceive ourselves in images of others. Advancement of AI has augmented “training” of the “perfect self” to fulfill a societal role, an online persona mediated by algorithms. When this virtual identity becomes the new reality, how should we re-evaluate the relationship between physical body and virtual identity, human and machine? 

The Persona Lab speculates a persona building and taster experience, where visitors try out and reflect on their new virtual identities through a persona-customized digital interaction dictated by the algorithm. Visitors will acquire a receipt of their avatar’s data before leaving and rethink how far personal autonomy goes in their relationships with algorithm-generated identities. After all, could it be that everyone has been living freely in the unfree…
 

Experience user flow

1. Entrance: Vending machine

The vending machine entrance alludes to the idea that the AI in control is trying to sell new personas to all visitors. Here, they can learn about the context of this experience, and retrieve a pair of glasses to log new personas when entering the lab later.

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2. Station one: Persona building

Learn more about the lab experience and avatar creation. Complete a personality test and face+body scan to acquire a customized digital avatar calculated by the algorithm. The avatar that encompasses the visitor’s personality dictates what they see, analyzes their interactions and produces feedback on their glasses in real time. Visitors see in the perspective of their new avatars from now on.

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3. Station two: Persona tasting

Visitors can now experience a highly customized digital experience that resembles online surfing (the interface displays an online auction experience). All interactions are calculated and manipulated by the algorithm in real-time, which are designed to "perfectly" match the avatar’s settings/preferences.

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4. Station three: Persona takeaway

Enter the final station, also the "backstage" of the lab that reveals how algorithms speculate and dictate the entire persona taster experience. Visitor places the glasses on a smart counter connected to the AI that runs the lab, and acquire a printed persona receipt with a summary of the components that make up the digital avatar they can take home with. If preferred, they can access the full features of their avatar online to be installed on other applications, then congratulations! The persona has taken over their host.

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Studies that go behind "building" the lab: define+discover

“The Truman Show” discusses the parallel between reality and illusion in a media-saturated society, to what extent is our life dictated and “branded” by external forces, such as social media without knowing? 

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“The presentation of self in everyday life”

When the public has become the “observer” who influences how someone acts at the “front”, this performer is likely to put on a “mask”, i.e. a “persona”. 

"The age of surveillance capitalism”

 self-identity no longer reflects how “I” feel, but mirrors the audience’s opinions. Thus ubiquitous computing has made the persona-performance analogy a never-ending show

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In a spectacular society, “social relations between among people mediated by images”. Spectacle focuses on appearance, and appearance is governing our life and society.

--Society of Spectacles

People have different "personas" online because they are so concerned of how they appear in the eyes of others.

Ubiquitous computing makes "manufacturing" the "perfect self" easier. When identity could be manufactured in an industrialized process, persona becomes the new reality. 

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Real-life case studies

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Persona engineering process

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Speculation

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AI computing and the internet has industrialized persona creation. What if persona becomes a “merchandise” that could be purchased and customized by people to altar self-representation in the future?  

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