For in tremendous extremities human souls are like drowning men; well enough they know they are in peril; well enough they know the causes of that peril; – nevertheless, the sea is the sea

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Boston Dynamics was as much its YouTube channel as it was a robotics firm. Poorly lit, with a look that betrayed iMovie’s default settings, the videos were what Boston Dynamics did best: present experimental technologies as logical conclusions. Of course we’ll have quadruped robots running faster than Usain Bolt. I mean, obvy. The banality of it all; how could you resist? But there were consequences to this kind of thinking.

PETMAN isn’t the T-1000. It was meant to test hazard suits worn by military personnel, so, the logic goes, it needed to move like one. LS3 isn’t a mobile weapons platform, but a way to haul supplies across uneven terrain. In neither case are the technologies murderous on their own, but a very real problem lies in the goals they serve. Here are robots meant to streamline war. Make war go faster.

My—our—obsession with Boston Dynamics served as a kind of military boosterism. An obscenely large foam hand emblazoned with the words Real Future Shit (and, occasionally, We’re All Going to Die). Also, a sense that only in a not-too-distant future will war be truly horrifying, when it’s waged by articulated legs, quadcopter swarms, railguns—only then. I’m absolved of any guilt about the wars happening right now because I’ve transferred it to the future still buffering. Fearing what a robot might do makes me comfortable with what drone strikes do right now.

Paralysis comes swift when you think of all the ways you’re complicit in ongoing horror. So 2013 went to drone pilot confessionals. Snake robots in water. It was also the year I turned 30, and, feeling nostalgic, searched for early footage of the Gulf War—the moment, I think, science fact and science fiction became inseparable, inviting all of us to imagine what could be at the cost of what already was.

No one company should take all the blame, if that’s even the word. The speculative arms industry is thirsty and involves universities, blogs, commercial gimmicks—even DIY makers cobbling better, cooler drones in the backyard. Harmless, robbed of context.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: tim_d

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he deliberately sauntered to quiet his nerves

August 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

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DEER TRAIL, Colo. – The Deer Trail town board tied 3-3 in a Tuesday night vote on whether to approve drone-hunting licenses and bounties, sending the proposed ordinance to a vote of residents in November…

The idea also drew a warning from the Federal Aviation Administration that people can be prosecuted or fined for shooting at drones. Last month, the FAA issued a statement saying firing guns at unmanned aircraft could cause them to crash, injuring people or damaging property…

The idea of hunting the federal’s government drones began as one man’s symbolic protest against a surveillance society. But other townspeople embraced the idea as possible magnet for tourism — and revenue — in the tiny community of about 550 residents.

“We do not want drones in town,” said Deer Trail resident Phillip Steel, who drafted the ordinance…

The ordinance specifies that weapons used for engagement of unmanned aerial vehicles would be limited to “any shotgun, 12 gauge or smaller, having a barrel length of 18 inches or greater.”

Drone hunting licenses would be issued without a background investigation, and on an anonymous basis. Applicants would have to be at least 21 years old and be able to “read and understand English.”

Deer Trail Town clerk Kim Oldfield said, “I can see it as a benefit, monetarily speaking, because of the novelty of the ordinance.”

Oldfield said there’s talk of promoting the ordinance as a novelty and “possibly hunting drones in a skeet, fun-filled festival. We’re the home of the world’s first rodeo, so we could home of the world’s first drone hunt.”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Daniela Contreras

That’s because manufacturing shrank mysteriously, just like Nigel Lawson

April 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Why is the military so keen on cutting war game programs and institutions, whose total budget amounts to less than the cost of a few Predator drones? Here we need to examine the nature of war as conceived through the use of war games and compare that to the one espoused by drone ideology. And the best way to do that is to consider how each attempts to create their own ‘Borges Map’, a 1:1 representation of reality placed on top of lived reality.

Consider the war game. Philip von Hilgers, in his history of ‘Kriegspiel’ in Germany, notes that war games allow one to play with various military hypotheses without being bound by the constraints of time.

“The war games and map exercises did not simply dissolve temporal references through a symbolic system, but allowed a temporal extension to occur that seemed to correspond to the hypothetical situation. It was precisely because war games granted time unlimited space that what was not planned could occur.”

Essentially, war games facilitate construction of a Borges Map through unlimited extension of time. Running various scenarios and potentials, the military mind can better map out all possible outcomes and create appropriate responses that will minimize casualties while inflicting maximum possible damage to the enemy. Compared to other military technologies, the war game allowed planners to layer multiple representations of reality on top of the actual reality of battle. The uncertainty of conflict, what many term the ‘fog of war’, becomes less obscure when one can eliminate the constraints of time. Despite its pursuit of rationalistic modeling, the war game nonetheless creates a space where metaphysical thought can mingle with the rational and produce a synthesis that not only affirms the humanity of the players but also places that humanity at the center of decision making. Descartes famous maxim, ‘I think, therefore I am’, could easily become, ‘I think, therefore I (war) game’.

Compare this to the ideology of Drones.  read more

STILL: Benjamin Christensen

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