Friday, May 26, 2017


Code Empire Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

In Code Empire I have painted Earth and its moon in binary code that repeats/instructs the word EMPIRE. But the full code is not seen, as it wraps around the planet and the moon. Various satellites are positioned in space, and signals radiate into - or - from outer space. 

Code Empire is a continuation of my interest in trying to portray and reflect upon the influence of contemporary digital and cyber technology in our daily lives generally, and in war and conflict specifically. A recent article "U.S. Empire, Warfare, and Geopolitics in the Robot Age" by Ian Shaw directly spurred me to create Code Empire.(1) In the article, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Security Dialogue, Shaw discusses "more-than-human geopolitics" by drawing nonhuman entities, cyborgs, artificial intelligence and algorithms etc, into the realm of geopolitical influence, particularly regarding warfare. The notion of empire is applied to the way contemporary technology enmeshes the planet in a way the sets preconditions for a future dominated by algorithms, artificial intelligence and robotic forces. Shaw uses terms such as "planetary technics" and "robo-mesh". I particularly like "robo-mesh"! His article raises a plethora of questions about the future of war, security and surveillance, and humanity's place in a world where technology not only changes where and how humans live, but also notions of human agency, power and involvement.    

The World Needs Artists
As regular readers know, I have a keen interest in contemporary weaponised technology, especially airborne drones, increasing autonomy in weapon systems, swarming capabilities and ubiquitous surveillance technology. Code Empire channels all these interests as well as my interest in cosmological perspective. I propose that cosmic perspectives, albeit imagined, are useful ways to critically view current global geopolitical machinations. When I say "imagined", I know some people find it hard to transport themselves beyond the here, now and the obvious - that's why the world needs artists!

Cosmic Perspective
With a cosmic perspective, a few readings of Code Empire are possible. Maybe it exposes the infiltration of militarised surveillance facilitation beyond Earth's atmosphere to dual-use communication and GPS satellites; the digital 'empire' already extended into space? If this is the case it is not just the planet enmeshed in code, but also our atmosphere and beyond. Human endeavours regarding technological development are to be marveled, but ultimately is there a human cost, perhaps not initially apparent? Researchers at the Center for the Study of Existential Risk, the Future of Humanity Institute and others have certainly determined that there are risks with accelerating developments in new technologies, including artificial intelligence. 

What if...?
Whilst Code Empire might depict Earth and the moon, it may not be an image of anything in our solar system at all! It could be another planet in another star system or galaxy - or universe, also enmeshed by code! Or, it could be 'evidence' that Earth, and possibly the universe, may be a simulation run by posthumans. My painted signals may not be radiating out from Earth, but into it from some kind of external/remote motherboard entity. Here, I am thinking of philosopher Nick Bostrom's simulation theory, which I have previously written about.* It is useful to think about the idea of a posthuman simulation, because it implies that the human species no longer exists. If we are not a simulation, thinking about a post - human world might trigger more critical and urgent examinations of the role militarised-capable technology plays as a threat to not only human agency but also human species existence. 

As Shaw notes in another article, "Policing the Future City: Robotics Being-in-the-World" Understanding the worldliness of algorithms is to view them as forces embedded in the flesh, texture, steel, stone, and undulating atmospheres of our more-than-human co-existence.  (2)

Co-existence - for now!


(1) Ian Shaw, A pre-corrected draft version of Shaw's article "U.S. Empire, Warfare, and Geopolitics in the Robot Age" is currently available on Shaw's page. It has been accepted for publication in Security Dialogue.
(2) Ian Shaw, "Policing the Future City: Robotics Being-in-the-World", a paper presented at Intervention Symposium – Algorithmic Governance Organised by Jeremy Crampton and Andrea Miller, published in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Georgraphy, 5.

* Some other paintings where I reference Nick Bostrom's simulation theory. 
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