Darkness Behind the Light: A Love Letter to LA

Nov 1, 2022
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The most passionate and intelligent person is useless until she’s connected to opportunities that can utilize her talents. Similarly, the most potent of data is useless until it can be accessed and understood by those who are capable of using it to make decisions. The focus of AI LA is to connect those dots—gather talent in the same room so that people can create inter-disciplinary innovation together, and assemble data into narratives so that people can engage with it in ways that yield real and useful insights. This spirit is channeled into AI LA’s narrative data project Darkness Behind the Light.

There’s a big difference between data that is available and data that is accessible to people, especially given the divide in data literacy and digital access. However, the degree to which civic engagement is democratic is directly dependent on the equal access and equal comprehension of information. Darkness Behind the Light is an experiment in how to use narrative and artistic visualization to take the glut of public data made available to us and make it accessible and comprehensible for all people, not just those with a degree in statistics and a lot of time on their hands. 

The project’s first stage was an abstract experiment in making visual art out of data. AI LA partnered with Ouchhh Studios, a pioneer of data paintings & sculptures, to create a light installation for AI LA’s summer fundraising event, Fun for Funds Festival. The installation consisted of five 10’x4’ screens erected in the midst of the rooftop event in Downtown LA, each featuring flashing lights and futuristic imagery representing different districts of Los Angeles and public health data associated with each district. The installation was an experiment in making art and beauty out of sobering data, light out of darkness. Learn about each installation here.

Light at the End of the Funnel

AI LA rolled out the second phase of the project at their most recent event, Life Summit, which focused on the intersection between AI and Healthcare. At the event, the same data was taken from the abstract to the concrete and displayed on five separate dashboards, each showing correlations in the sectors of transportation, air quality, housing, mental health and physical health. The dashboards allowed people to interact with the data, tweaking variables and watching the results play out before them in easy-to-understand visualizations. The installation was titled Light at the End of the Funnel, expressing that the proper interplay of parameters can make data accessible, understandable and, most importantly, actionable. 

Click on the links below to explore the Tableau Dashboards:

District 1 Accessibility- “ The Places We Go" For residents in District 1—covering downtown and East LA—the main challenge is access. Access to quality jobs, retail stores, and perhaps most importantly—food. Portions of District 1 can be considered a food desert—a term used to describe the the absence of nutritious and accessible foods in urban areas.

District 2 Environment- “The Air We Breathe” While AI can be a part of tracking air quality, it can also play a part in tackling the underlying causes for smog and dismal air quality along these supply chain corridors. In these supply chain corridors, with less obstacles, autonomous transportation is not only more feasible, but also safer. In addition, AI can support the creation of more local production models through responsive production systems that create quick turnaround, small-batch products based on expressive consumer demand.

District 3 Housing- “The Homes We Inhabit” In the future, AI predictive models play a role in anticipating housing needs of individuals who are encountering circumstances that may cause them to be unhoused and connecting them to relevant resources before they become unhoused. AI in partnership with GIS systems can also target where to build more housing, tap into new sustainable construction methods, and support incentive structures for neighborhoods to build more high-density housing units.

District 4 Racial Equity- “The Skin We Live In" People of color are advocates within the systems in which their data is used. AI decisions are built to be more explainable so that biases can be pointed out. Each county has a unique geographical context that can illustrate the environmental composition of racial equity in the communities it encompasses.

District 5 Health Access- “The Bodies We Care For” Despite an expanding definition of healthcare, the ability to access healthcare seems to become more restrictive over time. These issues of access disproportionately target certain communities—often the same communities that are dealing with increased healthcare issues to begin with.

The idea behind this project is not just to do party tricks with AI. It’s to use the resources made available to us through open data to make the world a more equitable, more democratized and more beautiful place. That requires civic engagement, and civic engagement requires equal and easy access to information. How do we best display that information so that it’s comprehensible, engaging and actionable? How do we make these tools available to all people and not just those of us who are privileged with access to technology and experience in how to navigate it? We don’t know. This project is a mission to find out. 

Intelligence is useless without application. Passion is useless without a worthy cause. Data is useless without interpretation. And democracy is useless without civic engagement. We’d like your feedback. Play with the tools we’ve built, tell us your thoughts, and oh ya, go vote.

(Stay tuned for phase three, where we incorporate machine learning tools to take the same datasets we’ve been working with and make predictions that can inform policy change!)

Please fill out this form if you are interested in volunteering at AI LA.

Artwork created using Midjourney prompt: darkness behind the light in a city in the style of Anthropomorphic cyber punk