Friday, July 31, 2020


Top: Drones Swarming - Seeking Alignment Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020
Middle: Misaligned? Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020
Bottom: Aligned? Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

Aligned or misaligned? 
I have placed these three paintings close together. While they can be viewed separately, I also see them as a triptych, each one visually playing off the other. 

I was thinking of what it means to be aligned or misaligned. With advances in AI, there are discussions and debates about how to align AI with human morals and ethics.* In terms of technology and signal transmission and reception, alignments between nodes is pivotal. In swarming technology wifi enables alignment of formations. There are many ways to think about alignment and misalignment, for example from literal placements in an environment, to philosophical questions about relationships between between means and ends. Alignments of many kinds have impacts on survivability! Then there are old sayings based on superstitions, such as - because the stars are aligned in certain ways, good or bad things might happen.

Each of the three paintings above reflect some of my thoughts about alignment and misalignment in the age of the drone. Needless to say, they also reflect upon other issues, but alignment is the theme that is common to all three paintings. 

Drones Swarming - Seeking Alignment 
In this painting, binary code 'instructing' the word DRONE is repeatedly painted across the paper. Rather than painting actual drones, I decided to represent each drone as an algorithm. This strips away the physicality of the drone, exposing it as an advanced node in a networked and interconnected militarised system. Swarms of drones can act as their own system, creating flying meshes of networked nodes. As the technology advances, if one drone is 'taken out', a swarm will be able to re-calibrate - realign - to continue on a mission. Here, alignment could ensure lethality.

This painting plays with the superstition that when stars are aligned in certain ways, good or bad things can happen. I have placed stars with nodes that are normally in a drone's operational network. The lines connecting these nodes represent signals. However, these signals are disrupted by the stars, potentially forcing misalignment in the drone's network. Whether this is a good or bad outcome, depends on your point of view. The lone tree. my interpretation of the tree-of-life, stands as a witness.

This painting visually parodies computer graphics that might be seen, for example, on a remote drone pilot's screen. The landscape beyond the graphic-like markings is ambiguous. Is it a sky, is it land-based. Maybe it is a landscape seen through clouds? Is something targeted? Maybe the blue box with a red cross sectioning it, is a kill box? If so, has the target been located, and have friendly forces and civilians been evacuated from the kill zone? Is everything aligned for a surgical strike? What kinds of ethical questions arise? The computer graphic is not neutral.

* Prof Toby Walsh is one of the world's leaders in AI and robotics. He, like others, often speaks about the alignment issue. For example a talk recorded for the Future of Life Institute  


was recently published in Brisbane, by And Also Books. Featuring fifty authors, it is an assemblage of reflections about COVID-19. Happy to say I am one of the authors, as is my mother, Elsie Brimblecombe.


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