About the Sociality project

The conceptual artwork Sociality is composed of over twenty thousands patents for online platforms, interfaces, algorithms, and devices. The artist Paolo Cirio investigated public repositories of patents to document technologies that conceal the social control, manipulation, and surveillance at play on the Internet.

Today, human sociality and psychology are affected by devices subtly designed to program social behaviors. Sociality seeks to inspire regulations, oversight, and public awareness regarding these apparatuses. Beyond addressing the technology itself, the artwork looks at intellectual property as a political and economic field that has become applied to the sociality of humans. Our sociality is now being owned and traded by private companies without public scrutiny. This artwork documents the history of the unscrupulous business of engineering human sociality with the introduction of technology for social networks, Internet advertising, and even mind-reading. Sociality reveals some of the first patents from this particular technological field, dated around 1998, and it concludes in 2018, the year when nefarious unintended and intended social consequences of such technologies have become most evident and reported. These patents document the history of how humans began to be programmed by machines. A list of videos, books, news articles, and experts provides further information about the subject-matter of this project.

Paolo Cirio identified classes of patents, then collected, aggregated and sorted the data on the website https://Sociality.today where thousands of patents of problematic technologies are exposed. On Sociality’s website everyone is able to browse, search, submit, and rate patents by their titles, images of flowcharts, and the companies that created them. Both the artist and the online participants perform oversight of invasive inventions designed to target demographics, push content, coerce interactions, and monitor people.

With Sociality, Paolo Cirio reveals devices that are often obscured by technological language, trade secrets, and the public’s general unawareness. The documentary form of this artwork aims to shed light on contemporary mechanisms of social control by showing evidence of complex technological systems and their roles in enabling addiction, opinion formation, deceptions, discrimination, and profiling. Sociality examines the concepts of social bubbles, algorithmic bias, amplification of misinformation, behavior modification, tech addiction, and corporate surveillance. Expanding from privacy and bias, this project focuses on technology for the manipulation of human behaviors and psyche. Attention economy, steered social validation, and habit-forming products can be psychologically damaging and impact social relationships to the point of harming the fabric of society and endangering democracy.

This artwork intervenes by seeking accountability for the creation and deployment of unethical artificial intelligence, user experience and interface design, data mining, network monitoring, mind sensors, and algorithms. These technologies should be handled and regulated as in similar developments in chemistry, biology, and genetics. As such, the banning of toxic and dangerous inventions should extend to information technology. For this proposition, the artist invites everyone to flag and ban patents through the interactive website of the Sociality project. This provocative and participatory component elicits engagement for a democratic and collaborative oversight. The images of flowcharts of patents are composed with short descriptions and patent numbers to be shared online or through printouts. These documents are eventually sent to legislators, academics, activists and journalists for advocating regulation and the potential banning of the publicly scrutinized technologies.

The visual strategy of flowcharts and graphics aims to make the project popular and emblematic for denouncing controversial inventions. In the art installation, hundreds of flowcharts of algorithms with their descriptions are printed in black and white on A4 paper sheets. Through integrating visual, conceptual, activist, and participatory aesthetics, the offline art installation and website constitute informative Internet art about the social and mental health effects of information technology. In the exhibition, the public confronts large-scale compositions with images of flowcharts that abstractly invoke the complexity and magnitude of uncanny plans to program people. Furthermore, the artist invites children between the ages of 9 and 12 to color in flowcharts and descriptions of the patents as an integral component of the conceptual artwork.

As a final artistic gesture, the artist Paolo Cirio will create an algorithm for aggressive social manipulation and control. He will then attempt to patent the algorithm to keep it unavailable to the industry. This ultimate act will propose to exploit intellectual property laws for halting socially harmful information technology.

We regulate the financial sector, we have check and balance in the government, we ban the sale of guns, and toxic chemicals. As information technology impacts society perilously, we must also regulate both centralized and decentralized platforms, infrastructures, and interfaces with inventive, restrictive, and reflexive policies.

Further information and material

Related Books:
  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. 2018. By Jaron Lanier.
  • Re-Engineering Humanity. 2018. By Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger.
  • Sad by Design. 2018. By Geert Lovink.
  • Algorithms of Oppression. 2018. By Safiya Noble.
  • Automating Inequality. 2018. By Virginia Eubanks.
  • Digital Sociology. 2017. By Noortje Marres.
  • Weapons of Math Destruction. 2016. By Cathy O'Neil.
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. 2014. By Nir Eyal.
  • Networks Without a Cause. 2012. By Geert Lovink.
  • Program Or be Programmed. 2010. By Douglas Rushkoff.


“The Civilization-scale mind-control-machine” and “the compulsive elements of their inventions”

By Tristan Harris.

“Literally changes your relationship to society” with “the vulnerability in the exploiting human physiology”
By Sean Parker.

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works” “The social validation feedback loop” “It's ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”
By Chamath Palihapitiya.

“We have several examples of technology enabling us to « do things » which for various reasons (mainly ethical) we decide not to allow. For instance, We have agreed to establish bio ethics boards and trust them to perform an oversight function regulating the indiscriminate use of technology on ethical grounds. Do the contenders of this dogma wish to allow unrestricted use of bio technology including development of biological arms?”
By Dan Shefet.

“So much more potential for behavior modification, and fooling people, and controlling people.”

“Behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them.”

“We have created a society based on universal trickery and deception. We have created a society where we routinely expect to be bullied and harassed and made to feel terrible. We've created a society in which most people kind of don't believe in truth anymore.”
By Jaron Lanier.

How it was done

Paolo Cirio identified vulnerabilities to scrape large collections of patents by stressing the limits of the platform Google Patents for searching entries of inventions. His assistant Andres Chang wrote a script to identify and obtain relevant patents, which were sorted according to a custom taxonomy. Paolo Cirio has then coded the interface to import, refine, and rate the data, while searching for keywords and codes to identify relevant technologies. The patents published on the website Sociality.today are updated till end of 2018, with the oldest relevant entries from 1998. Paolo Cirio researched these patents and their related socio-political ramifications for over a year, which resulted in the material presented for this project.

The patents on Sociality.today were downloaded from Google Patents through searching and refining keywords and patents' classes. See the break down of the results and the methodology in this index file.


The Sociality project needs your support to improve its database and its potentials for regulating perilous information technology.

The large amount of data was refined and scored swiftly without the time and resources to investigate thoroughly. More research is required for both patent groups and individual ones. Inevitability some records in the database need adjustments with different ratings and further attention. If you are passionate about ethics and technology, please help the Sociality project to improve with suggesting, refining, and rating the patents’ data.

Advocating for technology regulation needs more support and activism. Tech companies have gained enormous political power and the legal instruments available struggle to keep pace with the technological developments. If you are passionate about law and politics please help the Sociality project with instruments and contacts that you have available for regulating socially dangerous information technology.

The artist and activist Paolo Cirio created the Sociality project without financial support or any institutional resources. If you believe in this project, please consider donating or volunteering to help keep this idea alive.

Write us an email to support the Sociality project.

Press Material

Installation of the Sociality artwork

Interventions with the Sociality artwork at MIT and Harvard universities

Prints of the Sociality artwork

This is a socially engaged Internet artwork by Paolo Cirio.