Smile, Please

Chenshan Gao, Winnie Yoe

“Smile, Please”, a speculative and dystopian system that assesses your facial expression, shocks you, and prints out a photo and grading record to train you for a perfect smile.


According to UK innovation foundation Nesta, the prevalence of AI in emotion prediction is one of the predicted trends in innovation in 2018. Companies such as Affectiva and Beyond Verbal already own huge deposit of emotion database around the world. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal proves the danger and impact of “psychological warfares” in tech. In the near future, as our emotion becomes an asset that is trackable and predictable, would it also be controllable and “hackable”?

Against this background, we created “Smile, Please”, a system that detects smiles and uses a thermal printer to tell users if their smile is “good” enough or not while also using electrodes to shock the person if their smile was not “good” enough. In addition, users will be given “The Manual of Smile Etiquette” after each experience. The project is a response to the prevalence of emotion AI and current coercive societal forces that manipulate our emotions. This project combines concepts from Physical Computing and Design for Discomfort (e.g. creating and closing the magic circle, use of visceral effect and taboo). Through an extreme approach, dark humor and by creating visceral discomfort, with mechanism referencing to Palvov’s classical conditioning and the Milgram experiment, we hoped to shock our audience in thinking about the implications and ownership of our emotions in the current societal and technological landscape.

*Considering the ethics of this project, we will be following IRB’s guidelines and referencing other artists who have used TENS unit/electric shock in their work.


Design for Discomfort, Introduction to Physical Computing