GRAND MUTUAL SMILES
In a response to accusations in 1987 by a journalist that the pace of development in Bhutan was slow, the then King of Bhutan replied "Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product". This signalled his commitment to building an economy appropriate to Bhutan's culture, based on Buddhist spiritual values, and has since served as a unifying vision for the Bhutanese economy. In a survey in 2005, 45 percent of Bhutanese reported being very happy, 52 percent reported being happy and only three percent reported not being happy.
Grand Mutual Smiles is a two-way interactive installation that communicates between two parties through the transmission of images of smiling faces. Progressively captured pictures of smiling people are displayed on video screens at each installation site. The motivation is to encourage users to communicate across the internet in a non-verbal and humoristic way, by smiling. Approaching the concept of the smile as a universal expression of joy, the project presents two sets of updating people's faces at each of the destinations.
In June 2009 the cities of Linz in Austria and Thimphu in Bhutan were chosen as sites for a smile exchange and thus the two locations were connected by real-time updating smiles.The installation consisted of the following setup:
There were two "smile-boards" at each location, one representing the remote location and one representing the local location. Each smile board was realised in practice by a video projector.
At each installation site, a camera was set up, connected to a computer running custom face detection and smile detection software. The software continually captured the faces of the people close to the smile boards and within its field of view. If it encountered what it considered to be a smile, it saved the image to the respective smile-board. As a local smile-board acquired new images, it then sent those new images across the internet to its corresponding board in the remote location. As the images were compressed files of small size, the time taken to transfer and then display a new image from one location to another was no more than 30 seconds.
Each smile-board at a given location was connected to a camera equipped computer. The software also kept track of smile statistics, indicating how many smiles were tracked per country, per hour and per day.
Grand Mutual Smiles therefore created a simple but effective internet powered real-time index of happiness at the specific sites in both Austria and Bhutan.
Here is a video of the opening of the Grand Mutual Smiles installation in Clocktower square, Thimphu, Bhutan, on the 17th June 2009. The proceedings were opened by Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck.