Ernest is an interactive exploration of machine learning, placing the viewer in the role of training an artificial intelligence designed to make people happy. Ernest is from an era prior to ubiquitous data collection, so it needs you to help train the Happiness Model™ so it can learn what content makes people happiest.

Ernest uses computer vision to detect your face, and then reacts to you based on your facial expressions. He’s learning to understand emotions and how various pieces of content can affect your emotional expressions. But while we’re training a Happiness Model™ with Ernest, how else might this technology be applied despite the good intentions of its creators?

Through Ernest we hope to open a dialogue around the ethics of gathering the data used to train and validate models, the places bias can creep into these models, the gap between intent and real-world applications of these models, and the tensions around augmenting or automating decision making using imperfect models.

Ernest served as the lobby installation at IDEO San Francisco during October & November 2018. In addition to IDEO, Ernest was exhibited at the San Francisco Art Institute Fort Mason Gallery for CODAME Intersections event on Nov 2, 2018, as part of the 50th anniversary convening of Leonardo / The International Society of Arts, Sciences and Technology.