Lying trough their teeth
01-07-2010A clear, resin tooth with an old TV-set chip in its center modeled the idea for the tooth phone.
James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau remember when they decided to start lying. Or, as they prefer to put it, exaggerating.
It was just before lunch one weekday afternoon in late spring 2002. The press wasn't biting on their tech-art project -- the concept of a cell phone implanted in a tooth, which they were about to exhibit at the Science Museum in London. powwowed. Maybe, they thought, the trick is to make it seem a little more real.
A reporter had just called, but he lost interest after learning the implant was just an idea meant to stimulate conversation, not an actual invention. The two designers
Fifteen minutes later, another reporter called, and at that moment the tooth phone transformed from conversation starter to probable product. Yes, they told the reporter, they were looking to build a prototype, and, yes, possibly have it available within a year.
That phone call launched a tech hoax whose brew of misrepresentation, obfuscatory articles and the internet created a media blitz that landed them on Time magazine's 2002 Best Inventions list.
But reporters didn't notice anything suspicious. They saw a good story with creative, technical and biological elements. Soon, the tooth phone was described in reports as a device "invented by British engineers" that "picks up a signal from a mobile phone or similar device within a one-metre range" and would let you "listen to music, even connect to verbal sites on the internet without anyone else hearing a thing." Wired News reported that the device "currently only works as a receiver." When the project's real goal was mentioned, as in a BBC article, it tended to be secondary to the speculation surrounding the purported product.
It started out as a graduate-school project for the Royal College of Art, but the tooth phone -- officially the audio tooth implant, as the idea only called for audio input -- became an international phenomenon.
Wired News learned of Auger and Loizeau's true intentions while researching an article on similar technologies. In response to an e-mail request for an interview, Loizeau explained they were not developing it and that it had been used as a debate catalyst.
In an era where media fraud has become easier to catch and diffuse, the media is itself a victim of fraud or exaggeration, perhaps more often than it would like to admit. From a fake press release
that caused Emulex's stock to tank in 2000, to 2004's toothing scandal and the recently revealed faked stem-cell research results, hoaxes happen. And sometimes, those that are uncovered retain their status as truth for a long time.
Loizeau and Auger admitted to stretching the truth, but Auger also said many details in articles were fabricated by reporters. And they don't feel badly about manipulating the media, which they said didn't express much skepticism about the product.
At a museum press conference, "there was only one man, a cameraman, who came up to us and told us what he thought we really were. He said, 'You ain't fucking scientists,' basically," Loizeau said. website