What: BENJI is a fictional project manifested through writing and "corporate graphic design fiction". The writing is featured in the book: Sniff, Scrape, Crawl… {on privacy, surveillance and our shadowy data-double}, published by Piet Zwart Institute. It includes contributions from: Birgit Bachler, Seda Guerses, Inge Hoonte, Julian Oliver & Danja Vasiliev, Michelle Teran, Steve Rushton, Nicolas Malevé and myself.
Where: It was also presented at ISEA2011 Istanbul as a part of the 'Sniff, Scrape, Crawl' Panel.

Set in the near future, BENJI is a fictitious entity that journeys into the world of bio-information as a commodity and consequently envisions the prospects of genetic discrimination and the increasing personalisation of marketing strategies. Named after the child of Sergey Brin, co-founder of and Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of (a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company), Benji represents the ideological and economic union as historically practiced in royal political marriages and commonly witnessed in corporate mergers.

Inheriting strands from both parents, Benji's mission is to be the world's leading DNA search engine. Using state of the art technology, BENJI matches you directly to personalised advertisements based on your class rank which is determined by an advanced analysis of your genetic code. So revolutionary is it, that even behavioural patterns can be detected to predict and preempt every decision so that your consumer cravings may be satisfied. This narrative also touches on the supernatural powers that users imbue in search engines or perhaps technology in general. Reflecting on the irrational and yet convincing mechanisms of belief experienced in fortune telling and horoscopes, a certain willingness to believe is perhaps key in creating more possibilities to discriminate. 

Struggling with finding a way to deal with online privacy, I invented an allegorical world where I could take the privacy debate onto the genetic level and into the potential future. In this world genetic information is under central control of a private multinational DNA search engine called BENJI. Through this project, I wanted to highlight and problematise the activities of centralising health and DNA records. A plausible consequence is genetic discrimination as witnessed during the eugenics movement earlier on last century. Secondly, as a reflection on the pharmaceutical industry working towards personalised, custom-made medicine, I wanted to push the limits of bio-information as a commodity - targeted advertising at its most efficient. Finally, what was also interesting was the kind of reverence to the mysterious power of the veiled search engine. It is veiled because the inner-workings of the search results powered by secret algorithms are shrouded by walls. Perhaps trivial, though compelling, empathy and the desire to relate plays a major role. Psychologically, it functions as a kind of self fulfilling prophecy, a desire which pre-empts and causes realities.

Read the short story HERE.