The Doomsday Clock is an interactive installation that analyzes the discourse and language of the news around the world.
1. Server gathers latest news
Every minute, the external server reads through 26 different english news feeds and aggregators from around the world. These feeds have been picked to maximize global reach and variety.
2. News are saved to a database
After downloading the news, the server chops up, categorizes and saves all of the relevant information into a database. Data includes news headline and body text, publishing time & date, original source and URL. News category and keywords are extracted from the text.
3. Deep text analysis
The data is sent to IBM’s Watson service (it used to be called Alchemy API). The service performs sentiment analysis on the news title, body and extracted keywords. This analysis gives numeric values to the optimism and pessimism of the text. In essence, the AI tries to figure out how positive or negative the sentiment is in the news.
4. Additional processing of data
After this, the Clock itself performs some additional adjustments on the latest data. Some weighting is done to normalize the data – for example, sports news usually contain exceptionally aggressive words compared to other news. Also, some sources are weighted a bit differently to keep a more neutral, globalized world view.
5. Clock scenes are updated
Different scenes run continuously on the displays. Realtime updating graphs of average sentiment in the world for the last 24h/7d/30d, slowly forming word clouds for words that appear most often in negative / positive news, slowly turning clock hands that graphically display the current situation.
6. The room breathes
A deep heartbeat and the lights in the room pulse accordingly to the current general ‘feeling’ in the world. Lights change color from mellow green to a burning red depending on the average sentiment in the last 15 minutes.
Years of news recorded
The Doomsday Clock is a part of my ongoing research & art project trilogy “Soul Equivalent”. In this project I dive into the soul and essence of humanity’s hive mind, or the soul of human. The first part of the exhibition was opened on 10th on November, 2014.
Conceptually, I wanted the installation to live with the exhibition visitors and to feel like a central hub of the world – and I think I succeeded rather well. Updating each minute, newest news headlines run through the tickers on the screens and the graphs live with what’s going on currently. Big accidents and tragedies are quickly reported on the world stage. Smaller news outlets parrot the news, often using more extreme language, creating a cumulative effect. A bomb going off on the other side of the world can make the graphs and tickers drop drastically to red in a matter of minutes – enabling the exhibition viewers to see how fast bad news travel across the world.
The server is a CentOS 6 VPS machine that runs a cron PHP script every minute. The script scrapes RSS feeds, processes the HTML data to a usable form and splits it to a MySQL table. The script analyzes the data using IBM’s Watson API and does some extra processing on the results to produce an even, global score for the current state of the world.
The client that displays the clock has been coded with Processing & Java. It uses pre-generated graphics drawn with Photoshop and Illustrator in addition to generative data-influenced graphics. Some extra visual spice is added with a couple of GL shaders. Outputs up to 4K video for widescreen monitors. Output is easily customized for several monitors.
The client also plays quiet looping generative music and controls the room lighting (LED PAR lights) through an ENTTEC DMX USB Pro Mk2 interface. Pretty much anything DMX-controllable can be setup to react to the clock’s status.
Iteration 2.0 was a tiny version in a shop window at the Yläkaupungin Yö – city festival 16th of May 2015. It made several upgrades to the server jobs as well as a complete graphical revamp.