CalArtian Competes in 2019 Biodesign Challenge Summit

CalArts student Marley Townsend (Film/Video BFA 20) will compete in the 2019 Biodesign Challenge (BDC) on June 20-21 in New York City.

The Biodesign Challenge, first held in 2016, offers high school and university students around the globe the opportunity to advance the field of biotechnology. Participants are paired with designers, artists and scientists to realize their projects beginning every January. The 2019 competition series features 36 teams from nine countries, and will be held at the Parsons School of Design and the Museum of Modern Art.

Townsend created her project “The Other Townsend” in Critical Studies faculty member’s Douglas Goodwin’s BioSims class. Students programmed chatbots (computerized programs designed to simulate text-based conversational partners) with social behaviors, and observed their online reception upon setting them loose on social media.

A ‘police sketch’ from Marley Townsend’s project ‘The Other Townsend’ | Image courtesy of the artist

Townsend tracked her family’s daily habits, including their browsing history, sleep patterns, texting habits and even genetic code to create what she describes as both “a literal portrait and a data portrait” of a fictional sibling. The avatar was manually created by means similar to those employed by large companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, notably for targeted advertising purposes. Townsend proposes that these organizations constantly undermine our privacy by stealing data necessary to create what she refers to as “police sketch[es],” yet cannot truly encapsulate the depth of the human experience.

Townsend will compete for the Outstanding Social Critique Prize, which is awarded to the project that “best explores and most clearly communicates a criticism of biotechnology through a social lens.”

Day 2 of the 2019 Biodesign Challenge Summit will be livestreamed here. See below for event details.

Event Details

Biodesign Challenge 2019

Thursday, June 20
Summit: 8:30 am–6 pm
Parsons School of Design
Tishman Auditorium
63 5th Avenue, New York City

Reception and Exhibition: 7 pm–9 pm
Parsons School of Design Making Center
66 5th Avenue, New York City

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