Tuesday, February 20, 2018

DRONES AND CODE: FUTURE NOW

Drones and Code: Future Now Oil on linen 40 x 56 cm 2018


FUTURE OF WAR
Recently there have been articles* in Australian news outlets reporting on the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell's statements about Australia's preparedness for the future of war. This future is one characterised by advanced robotic technologies and the utilisation of artificial intelligence in a range of military and associated activities - eg; surveillance, data monitoring, battlefield support, targeting. 

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell seemed keen to re-enforce that robotic and autonomous systems would assist and support human soldiers. The participation by a human being in decision making loops is one of the hotly debated issues raised by the development of increasingly autonomous lethal weapon systems. The Chief of the Army also expressed concerns about Australia's ability to keep up with foreign adversary capabilities; state, non-state and rogue. These concerns were also about Australia's ability to assist allied forces, as well as Australia's abilities to protect its land and people from less ethical forces.

ARMS RACE?
I read the news articles, and a couple of things came to mind. I understand that defence forces compare their capabilities with those of other forces. In the contemporary case it seems the focus is on potential future capabilities, where emerging technologies, accelerating at a fast pace, offer marked strategic and tactical advantages. When a focus is on the future and comparing capabilities, do we have an arms race?  

DRONES and CODE: FUTURE NOW
My new painting Drones and Code: Future Now is an Australian landscape, seen from a cosmic vantage point. This cosmic vantage point could be both spatial and temporal. Is this landscape a contemporary one, or is it a future landscape? Surely, if military minds and imaginations can  project into the future, so can I? Indeed, one could argue that militarised imaginations pave a path into the future. In doing so they militarise the future too! Are we aware of this though? 

For me, the cosmic vantage point can help us think critically about the future and how rhetoric surrounding the 'future of war' affects humanity now, let alone in the future. The big cosmic picture offers multiple perspectives that can draw in the past, the present and the future, and even a more distant future than the one militarised imaginations have occupied. What does the far distant future call to us? Surely it is imperative to follow militarised imaginations into their future, and then to proceed beyond it, in order to gain a temporal perspectival advantage that might offer a new imaginary? If we can return from the far distant future, carrying our new imaginary, how would that affect life now?

In Drones and Code: Future Now the continent of Australia presents as a black hole, as if the land mass has fallen away from the universe. Is the continent real? Binary code, wrapped twice around the continent's edge, instructs LANDSCAPE: 01001100 01000001 01001110 01000100 01010011 01000011 01000001 01010000 01000101. This may indicate that the Australian continent is a simulation? Has physical landscape been replaced by virtual landscape? Or, is it a subterfuge, a continental camouflage designed to protect land and people? The presence of weaponised drones certainly suggests a contested environment. Three red drones depart Australia - have they achieved their mission or are they Australian drones offering protection? One dark drone moves toward Australia. Again, its intent is ambiguous. Does it represent a malign force or the return of an Australian drone from a battle of robots?

The presence of the satellites indicate the inter-connectivity of technological infrastructure and therefore, the insidious creep of militarising capabilities. They also demonstrate that the viewer [you] is hovering above them. Your vantage point is revelatory. The fact that two satellites and one drone are darkly painted, like the Australian continent, perhaps suggests further stealth, simulation, but also possible signs of annihilation. 

Drones and Code: Future Now is an ambiguous Australian landscape. If it is a future landscape it is necessarily ambiguous because speculation calls for ambiguity, but also provocation. It just depends on whether the painting presents a near future or a distant future - tomorrow, next year, a century away or a billion years? But, given the current rhetoric about 'future of war', debates about lethal autonomous weapons and the role of artificial intelligence, and research into existential risk posed by emerging technologies, maybe Drones and Code: Future Now is actually a contemporary landscape?


* Sydney Morning Herald
   The West Australian 


OF INTEREST
Center for the Study of the Drone, Bard College, New York interview with me Portfolio: Dronescapes by Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox

Recent visual essay "New Landscapes in the Drone Age" in Dialogue: Taking Politics Outside the Box [School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland]. In this essay I have a paragraph that discusses where my interest in technology comes from - hint: My Dad was a very keen HAM amateur radio operator. 

Cheers,
Kathryn

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