I spy, a multitude of eyes

It’s so tempting to see the proliferation of drones as a linear progression of sci-fi predictions, and on the surface of it it’s not difficult to imagine that drones will be as omnipresent as CCTV cameras, but what is lacking in that image is how it feels to live under such conditions. We can get a certain notion of the feeling by reading reports from war zones. There, drones are a constant presence with utterly opaque behaviour and motivations which causes enormous stress on everyone, since you never know if you’re being observed or potentially targeted for a killing, Or if you’re neighbour is.

In a non-military settings, I imagine that one might develop a habit of not looking into the sky as often, lest you be reminded of something looking back.

So this weeks project is an idea concocted in mirth but earnest in intent. “Ha ha only serious” as it were. Over beers I and Gabriel started laughing over my suggestion of a paraphrase of the “SOS Racisme” badge, which in Swedish had the text “Rör inte min kompis!” – “Don’t touch my friend!” I proposed a version for our modern times, adapted to the surveillance state as it’s embodied through drones. The text invents a new Swedish verb, and translates loosely to “don’t drone my friend!” Behold:

What the verb “dröna” in this sentence means could refer to raising awareness of the ubiquitous drone killings, as well as the panopticon-like surveillance they’re a part of, or perhaps it’s an appeal: —Friend, don’t drone! The enamel pin will be slightly wider than 5 centimeters, and depending on the colours I can get I’m leaning towards the red-cross red in the image above. Once they’re manufactured I’ll probably setup a subdomain and sell those, or something. What does one do with 200 pins anyway? I’m open for suggestions.

I’ve sent off requests to three manufacturers to get a quote on production, and this is my first venture into ordering to spec through alibaba.com, which is an OEM broker dealing mostly with Chinese manufacturers. Seeing as artists are supposed to be free agents in a free market, this way my Factory is an actual factory. It’s an odd world.

Strictly speaking, this project doesn’t fulfil the “finish by Sunday evening” criteria I set up last week since I don’t have the pins yet. But in my mind it’s finished enough that I can let it go; there’s nothing in the project awaiting my input until I get the quotes and technical specifications on how to deliver the original model. It’s happening, so I’ll count this as a partial success as far as my work ethic goes, awaiting the results once the pins are done and delivered. Their distribution will most likely bloat into a project of it’s own.

Regardless, next week there’ll be another project, perhaps more modest in scale…

Our ancestors could spot natural predators from far by their silhouettes. Are we equally aware of the predators in the present-day? […] This document contains the silhouettes of the most common drone species used today and in the near future. Each indicating nationality and whether they are used for surveillance only or for deadly force. All drones are drawn in scale for size indication. From the smallest consumer drones measuring less than 1 meter, up to the Global Hawk measuring 39,9 meter in length.

→ Drone Survival Watch: Twenty-first century birdwatching

Welcome to Global Drones Watch. The purpose of this site is to provide useful information about drones, and to encourage people to become active in efforts to stop killer drones overseas and stop domestic drones from violating our privacy and safety.

→ Global Drones Watch: Welcome to Global Drones Watch!

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.[…] Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones.

→ Stanfort/NYU Report: Living under drones

Schmitt saw with prescient clarity that air war would not only create an “intensification of the technical means of destruction” and the “disorientation of space,” but also intensify the problem of unequal sides, and allow the dominant side to re-label enemies as criminals. Schmitt understood that air power would create a world in which those who command the sky could police and punish those who do not.

→ Boston Review, Nasser Hussain: The sound of terror: Phenomenology of a drone strike

The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death. Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone’s victim never hears the missile that kills him.

→ Reuters Magazine, David Rohde: The drone wars

“I arrived to the site and there were bodies scattered all over the place. The people told me that my son Aref had died.” When he returned to the village, Al Shafe-ee was quoted as saying, “I saw the women of the village gathered crying and screaming.”

→ NBC News, Michael Isikoff: US investigates Yemenis charge that drone strike “turned wedding into a funeral”

“After an engagement, we have to conduct surveillance for quite a long time. Yes, we may only be seeing it, but sometimes, we’re seeing it for hours on end, and that is part of the traumatic impact of the mission. It’s a definite form of stress on the operator in and of itself.”

→ Live science, Denise Chow: Drone Wars: Pilots reveal debilitating stress beyond virtual battlefield

“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

→ Washington post, Ellen Nakashima: With air forces Gorgon Drone ‘we can se everything’

“[Depicted on the shield of Agamemnon:] And he took up the man-enclosing elaborate stark shield, a thing of splendour. There were ten circles of bronze upon it, and set about it were twenty knobs of tin, pale-shining, and in the very centre another knob of dark cobalt. And circled in the midst of all was the blank-eyed face of the Gorgo with her stare of horror, and Deimos (Fear) was inscribed upon it, and Phobos (Terror).”

→ The Iliad, Homer: The gorgeneion, image of terror

Another part of the arsenal are drones that will be, for the first time, monitoring the Games from above, as well as robotic bomb detectors that will prowl the Olympic grounds below.[…]”You can’t use drones to prevent suicide bombers … But they’re very good things to prevent [protests] because it might spot people trying to gather.”

→ CBC, Nahlah Ayed: Russia’s olympic security to set new surveillance standard at Sochi

If you’re going to develop secret airplanes, you’re going to need to figure out how to fund them. Now, how do you fund an airplane in secret when the constitution states that all federal funding needs to be accounted for? The point being that there are enormous economic, social and political infrastructures that need to be in place to create and sustain something like classified flight testing. Over time, when you build these types of infrastructures, you end up developing a state within the state that has very different rules and different ways of operating than what we would think of as a kind of democratic state.

→ Center for the study of the drone, Lenny Simon: Interview: Trevor Paglen

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

→ Richard Brautigan: All watched over by machines of loving grace

Fabbing. Now in real time. Or in China. Or at your place.

A couple of weeks ago The Pirate Factory in Malmö demonstrated their RepRap. There’s Flickr pool of the event up here with a shaky video at the end of it. They’re using a spruced up version from Bits from Bytes which looks slightly less dingy than the RepRap usually does (also, it uses a more powerful microcontroller for driving the printer independently of a computer — apparently an SD card is enough) and judging from the pictures there was a bunch of people present. I wonder which of the pictures are going to be used in Swedish school-books in the future, as illustrations of the fabbing revolution and micro-production…

Speaking of which, Wired has an article up on the current state of how manufacturing companies have become accessible to anyone with a credit card, lowering the cost of admission into mass production to more or less zero. Atoms are the new bits is worth your time if you’re the least interested in these matters, or the future in general. It’s full of interesting links, like the one to alibaba.com, an enormous portal of Chinese manufacturers.

I wonder what the environmental costs will be of bespoke production; To some extent you’ll have less hit-and-miss toys occupying landfills, but this gain might well be offset by increased packaging and shipping, or some other corollary. Also, I wonder if these long-tail manufacturing plants will go global or if China and such countries will retain their head start; We in the west will only ever manufacture wars.

If intellectual properties will become impossible to enforce — something which isn’t certain, given the oppressive laws which are passed to counter transparency and openness — this would indeed shift not only the knowledge of how to do something but also the rational for the existence of a specific company. If you can download the plans for a SAAB, you just need someone to manufacture it. In the end, just as globalization has killed the connection between brand and production — after all, the cheap manufacturing plants exist exactly because of the Export Processing Zones in Vietnam and China — it might well kill the last remnant of Company with a capital “c,” the brand with an address.

These realizations are not lost on industry folk, but no-one wants to admit their own obsolescence, thus there’s no hurry to come up with new business models. The exceptions are Threadless of the world, but those start from the bottom up and don’t have to reinvent themselves; Let’s see how well Apple handles the transition — if at all.

Joren De Wachter has written a summation of the coming upheavals — The Return of the Public Domain — and it’s a text targeting those in the manufacturing & design industry. Even though he’s hopeful, or rather, not fearful, of the technological changes which will change intellectual property as we understand it, his text is very thin on the details of how companies will cope, and focus rather on the knowledge workers themselves. (Proffesional Idea Generators, he calls us, which might actually go as an acronym on my next business card)

However, there is also a very clear positive side to the new developments described above for Professional Idea Generators. The new business models that become necessary will clearly provide them with significant competitive advantages for doing business in an environment where the Public Domain is important. Knowledge and expertise, cost effectiveness, continued innovation and networking are key competences of Professional Idea Generators. This puts them in a very strong position in respect of the new developments.

The sentiment seems to be that “someone will still make money, if they just figure out how to add their own knowledge as a value which can be commodified.” As things stand, only those who make stuff will be needed, those who actually have the tools and raw material to manufacture something. Everyone else is part of the Public Domain. And not only figuratively as someone who designs webpages or new pens, but they themselves become part of the commons, and last time I checked there was a tragedy involved in the commons under any scarcity-driven economic model.

You’re going to need a special secret sauce, armed guards keeping it safe for long enough to sell it. And even then you’re either competing for a nieche audience which wants the exclusive, or your elbowing for space with other companies, competing on price.

And here’s a narrative which might seem familiar: Over at The Millions, there’s an interview with a guy who pirates books, and in the comments section some people are upset over a lack of morals. In ten years time, when your kids are printing modified pirated Nikes, maybe the kneejerk debate will be different, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Home fabbing is killing Nike!