Saturday, November 11, 2017


Rose Tinted Landing oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm 2017

This small painting makes me smile. I think it 'speaks' volumes. 

Civilian/Military - Dual-Use
I've been researching airborne militarised drones for over two years now, and I detect an increasing dilemma between the enthusiasm for the civilian use of drone technology, and the use of drone technology by the military or other security or combatant forces. On the one hand research into drone technology to assist activities such as humanitarian efforts, agriculture, environmental issues, goods delivery, disaster relief and more, are greeted with positive, even exuberant responses. And, rightly so, because the positive outcomes include saving lives, improved time management, economic benefits, and more. On the other hand, weaponisable drone technology that can be used by military or security forces, and/or conscripted by insurgent or criminal entities, presents a future that seems generally less rosy. 

However, for some, developments in militarised drone technology paint a very rosy picture. This is due to outcomes such as increased tactical advantage, political points for not exposing home troops to their possible death in foreign wars, increased reach across land, air and sea domains [even space]. Additionally, proponents of airborne military drones argue that targeting is more precise, even surgical, and thus reduces the likelihood of civilian deaths. These arguments play out in debates around the increasingly autonomous nature of drone technology ie: the use of artificial intelligence in drone operative and decision making activities. Lethal autonomous weapon systems [LAWS], although debated for a few years, are currently gaining more critical attention against accelerating developments in artificial intelligence and drone technology - not just airborne, but also land-based, under sea and on the sea drone technology. 

Lethal Autonomous Weapons LAWS
The debates about LAWS are played out in a number of arenas - and - interestingly many of those who are cautious are scientists, including AI developers and roboticists. In 2015 the Future of Life Institute published Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter from AI and Robotics Researchers and in 2017 An Open letter to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. There are ongoing discussions at the UN about the definition of a lethal autonomous weapon system, and ensuing  policy responses. However, the accelerating nature of AI development places policy development and legal responses, in a race they cannot keep up with. And, a new arms race looms - if it is not already under way. Whilst some people call for a ban on LAWS development, others call for a moratorium, until definitions, protocols, guidelines etc are in place. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is one of the active and informed players in the debate about the development and use of LAWS. Another agitator in the debate is the International Committee for Robot Arms Control [ICRAC]. 

Interestingly, the recent UN Institute for Disarmament Research [UNIDIR] report, The Weaponisation of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies: Concerns, Characteristics and Definitional Approaches [download from UNIDIR Publications] points out that the dual-use nature of technology draws together research for civilian purposes, with research and outcomes of militarised technology. So, advances in drone technology and artificial intelligence for use in civilian situations, are likely to also impact on advances in militarised technologies. The lines between civilian/ military use are increasingly blurred, by corporate involvement in technological research - ie: companies developing, selling and servicing technologies that are utilised or utilisable by the military - or other kinds of security forces.   

Rose Tinted Landing
This painting 'speaks' to the complexity that surrounds dual-use military/civilian technology. On the one hand in civilian situations the positive outcomes of drone technology, coupled with autonomous systems such as identification, pattern recognition, anomaly detection and so on, is exciting. Yet, these same capabilities in a militarised or weaponised situation take on more dire possibilities. Conversely though, these capabilities are seen as highly desirable by those who seek tactical advantage and domain dominance. Additionally, the data gathered by civilian use drone technology ie: mapping, animal and human behaviour, etc, is potentially accessible by other entities - I'll let you think about what entities! 

Rose Tinted Landing questions how we human beings embrace technology - the pink drone, seemingly landing on a pink tarmac, demonstrates that technology, with its 21st century characteristics of accelerating complexity and fluidity, has landed on our collective consciousness. Are we metaphorically seeing contemporary technology through rose-tinted eyes/glasses - as the old saying goes? Or, is the painting pointing out that there is no such thing as a rose tinted future - it is all a ruse, a virtual reality, a subterfuge...?

Rose Tinted Landing is another dronescape, but it is also a cosmic landscape. It is part of an underlying quest of mine, to rethink notions of landscape in an era where technology's invisible signals mediate how we operate in our environments and respond to landscape. 

And, on that note, I will leave it to you to think more about - everything!

Other Drone Landing paintings are:


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