The Internet of Bombs. Tangible Evidence 2, University of the Arts London. 2015.
Co-authored with Tobias Revell and Justin Pickard, this essay traces forms of animism through the military history of technological development. The piece acts as response to and contextualising tool for the MA Interaction Design Communication projects at the London College of Communication, which were working to the brief of designing interactions based on awareness of the increasing autonomy and agency of surveillance and targeting systems; of the platforms that we build to sit atop them; and of NGO campaigning to bodies such as the UN to regulate autonomous weapons.
The Greek town of Megara lies near to the Gulf of Aegina, on the Aegean Sea. It has a long heritage as a monied region, packed with citizens who excelled in philosophy, philanthropy, architecture, and city-building. Byzas, the legendary founder of the city of Byzantium, came from Megara; so too did Euclid, the philosopher who battened together planes and systems of logic to create his eponymous geometry. If you want non-human, intelligent, autonomous incendiary devices – that is, pigs set aflame and sent into battle – then the good people of Megara have you covered.
The use of animals in wartime offer examples of some of the earliest autonomous targeted weapons systems. A pig may, at first, seem categorically different from an axe or a bomb; but, as weapons, animals have proven capable of inflicting harm and damage. The hog and the axe are both tools, deployed as a way to extend and amplify human action. In the First World War, American aviators flew with messenger pigeons on-board. In modern Tanzania, Belgian non-profit organisations train Gambian pouched rats to detect landmines. Small animals can creep through the tightest of tunnels, whilst larger beasts can rampage across enemy lines, sowing fear and unsettling troops - think of the effect of Hannibal’s elephants on the nascent Roman Empire. Animals can fly, breathe underwater, and run faster than humans. Their senses may, in certain situations, be more acute than those of their human handlers. But perhaps most crucially they can also – in theory – be trained to act without instruction.