Mobius phone

The original “Mobius Phone” was a contemporary art piece developed by Tamika O’Flannahan. Museum patrons would walk into a replica of an old phone booth, soundproofed, hold the phone up to their ears and describe a problem they were wrestling with. The machine learning algorithm coded into the hardware would process their speech patterns and repeat back to them what they wanted to hear.

The device (the algorithm, really) was so incredibly popular that she began selling it in museum gift shops. They went for many hundreds of dollars but even so they began to fly off the shelves, and soon the exhibit was viral. There were stories of people speaking to it for hours. Fringe online communities spun up full of people who were convinced rejected the idea that it it was an ironic art piece and believed they’d found a psychic and prescient object that was telling them the truth and, some groups asserted, giving them a direct line to the guidance of a higher power. Prayer now worked. Enterprising collectors sold access to the phone in 15 increments for those who could not afford their own.

Tamika had not made the devices to stand up to such heavy use, and after 6 – 8 months hardware issues and poor digital garbage collection made them unusuable. She had only made a limited number and was criticized harshly for driving up prices by creating scarcity. Eventually, the public got distracted and the Mobius Phone faded from memory.

Ostensibly Tamika never created an online connection for the phone because her users wouldn’t be comfortable with their deepest concerns being processed online. But in reality, Tamika would often find herself up at 2 am in a cold sweat, heart racing, staring out the window at her sometimes violent city. Her mind flashed with images of what might happen if the code got out and everyone could phone themselves and get advice that encouraged them to run with their deepest fears and selfishness. To never forget, she made a crossstitch sign and put it above her computer. It read “I am destroyer of worlds.”

About K2

I'm a social systems / data geek. I'm fascinated by big, gnarly problems. Also, I hold the scandalous and controversial opinion that public discourse works better when both sides actually talk to each other.
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