live web – The BeeMe Experiment

Welcome page of BeeMee’s website

BeeMee is a web-based live performance made as a social experiment by the MIT Media Lab on Halloween night in 2018. The experiment let a real actor to be controlled by an online audience in real-time, deciding the future of a story showed at different locations at the MIT campus.

Audience view during the experiment

The event followed a dystopian story of “an evil AI by the name of Zookd, who had accidentally been released online. Internet users had to coordinate at scale and collectively help the actor (also a character in the story) to defeat Zookd“. It lasted for about two hours and had a huge mediatic repercussion before and after the event, and an audience of more than one thousand people, which actually made the online platform crash during the event.

Participants of the experience could control the actor through a web browser, in two ways. One was by writing in and submitting custom commands, such as “make coffee,” “open the door,” “run away,” and so on. The second way was by voting up or down on those commands. Once a command is voted to the top, the actor would presumably do that very thing. The documentary below reveals that an IRL person would be responsible for getting the most voted actions or the most frequent custom commands, filter them and report them to the actor via sound communication.

Documentary telling the story behing the BeeMee experiment

I find it a very interesting performance and immersive social game experiment for the uniqueness of the partially undetermined experience of the actors who performed it and for the audience’s experience. First, because I had never found something that would allow users to control real people over the internet developing a story with such complexity. I can only think about the live porn industry as another example at this moment and some web chats where you can choose or “give orders” to performers or strippers while tipping them. Second, because the performance not just happens online and live, but it takes into consideration the web and its specific potentialities as a medium. And third, because the story which is told is also related to the medium since they are talking about AI and dystopian futures which are something very trendy right now.

BeeMee’s platform interface

It’s is also interesting to notice that in December of the same year of the BeeMee experiment, Netflix released Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix, the first interactive film of the platform, which is different from BeeMee for several reasons and probably the most obvious is that BeeMee’s performance is happening in real-time IRL while in Bandersnatch users choose between pre-recorded and edited footages.

It’s interesting to think about how the team had to design the narrative in a way they have only partial control over it but still control enough to make it engaging for the audience and coming to an interesting ending. I also apretiate observing their set-up on the body of the performers and how they streamed it. I guess one way of improving the experiment and making it more complex and interesting would be creating an AI algorithm that would be able to understand the inputs from the audience, calculate the most frequent and accurate and give commands to the actors, instead of that having to be mediated by a human.

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