Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Not Waiting for the Future Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2018

With accelerating developments in technology, including militarised or militarise-able technology, the future seems to be hurtling towards us. This is happening at the same time as technology's operative speeds are also accelerating. Here, for example, think about near-lightspeed transmission or processing of data via networked, always on, systems. How do human beings, living in human dimensions of space and time, keep up with accelerating developments and processes that 'play' in dimensions of space and time that are beyond our sentient or experiential reach? 

One domain that is attempting to keep up is the military. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Surely, in attempting to keep up, the military is absorbed into the processes of speed and acceleration. Arguably, this is an ingredient for an arms race - the word 'race' indicating speed! But, if a nation's defence forces do not address the acceleration in technological development, and speeds of technological operation, their duty of care to defend their citizens and allies could be compromised. 

Discussions and debates about the use and development of lethal autonomous weapon systems [LAWS] have been taking place each year at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [UNCCW] since 2013. LAWS are weapons or weapon systems, utilising machine learning and artificial intelligence, that enable various levels of management by the system/weapon itself. UNCCW Meetings have occurred in April and August this year - 2018. Debates about what meaningful human control means, preemptive bans on LAWS development, LAWS and International Human Rights Law, and more, have been discussed. 

But, the worry is that these debates and discussions, occurring in human dimensions of space and time, cannot keep up with the actual speed of LAWS development. The Future of Life Institute in its report on the April 2018 UNCCW meeting commented, The UN CCW is slated to resume discussions in August 2018, however, given the speed with which autonomous weaponry is advancing, many advocates worry that they are moving too slowly.

The Australian Chief of the Army, Lieutenant Rick Burr, recently released a "Futures Statement" titled Accelerated Warfare. This statement briefly outlines the Army's response to issues posed by the future of war; a future where technology offers new ways of warfighting, new types of warfighters, as well as new dimensions/terrains in which warfighting will occur. The complexity of war, dispersed across multiple domains and capabilities, now and into the future, enhances the challenges faced by the military, and society more broadly. 

As speed and complexity combine, contemporary and future warfare, also presents potential heightened risk in an age where research into existential risk posed by emerging technologies warns of potential civilisation collapse or human species demise. * 

The Chief of the Army made a statement in his 2018 Futures Statement: Accelerated Warfare that sparked my imagination. He wrote, We must pull the future towards us rather than wait for it; My painting Not Waiting for the Future was inspired/provoked by Lt Gen Burr's statement. I have previously written that rhetoric surrounding the 'future of war' militarises the future. Certainly, the future is a dimension already inhabited by anxiety, if not strategy. 
In Not Waiting for the Future I have flipped the continent of Australia to indicate a kind of flipping of time. A satellite and an airborne drone occupy the sky/space, along with an array of signals. A cross-hair target is positioned over central Australia. Red and white dots appear to perforate the continent, perhaps indicating invasive signals, or the presence of other targeting devices. Or are they indicators of Australian defence systems aimed in all directions? 
Two strings of binary code 'instruct' the words FUTURE and LIFE. The unseen and invisible forces of contemporary life and warfare - code and signals - propel us into a future that we, perhaps, don't need to wait for!
This painting is another of my droned landscapes or militarised landscapes. It is also a cosmic landscape that propels the viewer to perspectives beyond the immediate. With cosmic perspectives the occupation of land, sky and space, by signals that enable the operation of militarised or militarise-able technology becomes apparent. Is this a future-scape? If so, is this a future we really want? 
But, what if this future has already arrived?


* If you are interested in research into existential risk posed by emerging technologies, please start here, at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, The University of Cambridge. 


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