Last year at the first Emerge Conference in Arizona, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t speak, I merely watched in awe: I could not describe this new fact-based fictional approach to reality/ future/science and art.
In this year, by contrast, I took action. The topic this year at Emerge2013 was the Future of Truth:
I was involved in two workshops.
1) Petroglifs : we collected stones from the Arizona desert. These rocks were then inscribed by the laser cutter with digital images designed by Belgrade and Austin artists. After a week on public display at Arizona State University, the inscribed stones will be tossed back randomly into the desert again, carrying their messages, grown mysterious, to an unknown future.
What truth can these “petroglifs” convey: the urban stencils of street signs, the cellphone logos, the silhouettes of flying robots? Will they be more or less strange that the Native American petroglyphs of tropical birds that already exist in the Arizona desert? The truth is in question.
2) The Future of Atrocities. In this workshop, we produced the public performance of a futurist scenario. It was carried out on stage in public, and I was one of the actors in this work of “experiential futurism.”
The Drone War Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearing on March 2, 2033
Tempe, AZ, USA
Daniel Inole, Commissioner
My name is Daniel Inole. I am one of twelve commissioners that compose the Drone War Truth and Reconciliation Commission which began its work eight weeks ago on January 1, 2033.
The goal of our commission is to gather information from experts, electronic sources, victims and, where possible perpetrators to prepare an objective historical account of a series of tragic events that have come to be known as the Drone War.
This conflict is known by a specific technology – drones – which have been used by state and non-state actors in multiple contexts against diverse networks and individuals. Of special import is the fact that these machines have steadily expanded their surveillance capabilities and have taken on a variety of autonomous actions.
The Drone War began in 2019 with the event we will investigate today and ended in 2030. Our commission will calculate the number of casualties, but preliminary research suggest that the Drone War displaced over 5 million people and led to the deaths of an over 800,000.
Like other truth commissions our goal is to determine what occurred and to encourage accountability for violations of human rights and humanitarian law. But what do we mean by truth? And for whom? What are the sources of truth in this changing world? Should we believe the witnesses of war, traumatized as they may be? What of government officials? And should we trust the many machines who collect our data and speak to us? Is there a machine truth distinct from the human? We are here today to explore these issues.
Thank you for joining us.
Linus Blomqvist, Commissioner
I am Commissioner Linus Blomqvist, and our task today is to investigate a specific incident, the painful event that began the brutal Drone War. The basic facts are clear:
On March 1st, 2019, an advanced American drone tracking the notorious Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist Omar Sayyif in the North African nation of Metazania, fired a missile into a crowded marketplace, killing Sayyif and dozens of bystanders.
In the past, strikes such as these have been publically disavowed by officials; the stories of victims marginalized. We believe that truth has a healing power; that a space must be establish for those who are part of the “kill chain” to explain their roles and responsibilities, and for the victims of drone strikes to make their stories part of our collective history. For us, the truth is a function of both fact and the narratives we tell to understand the impact of transformative events, such as the event we will consider today.
(Blomqvist introduced each speaker by name and role)
Hissene, activist reporter
My name is Hissene, I am an activist reporter and a citizen journalist. That morning, March 1st 2019, I went to the black market as usual to scare up some food. I had books for trade.
Everybody came there to trade articles for survival. I didn’t know those people. Shops were empty, roads cut off, bridges improvised!
I have an implant in my right hand, a present from NASA friends. My devise was automatically taking notes even before the explosion blew up in the air in front of my eyes. It was very quick and very precise, but I didn’t understand the target.
As I listened to my device’s report, I recognized a man disguised as a seller of petrol cans but who wore military Metazania boots. He was running when he got hit, hiding behind an old man with and a child. They all got killed. My friends in NASA received all people’s device data in real time. While I was helping the wounded, I was watching myself do it!
I am considered a traitor to my own people because i am against terrorists and a collateral damage in the international antiterrorist mission. My truth is out there in the cyberspace.
Saleh Sayiff, victim/refugee
My name is Saleh Sayiff. I was born in Uzatate, Metazania. That day my husband was in the market place, trading our goat’s milk for batteries. He was not the bad man as they say.
My daughter, Samira was at our house preparing grains. I was getting water from the river up the hill way over there. I heard a buzzing and then a loud explosion. I knew in my heart that Omar had been killed.
I came home with the water. I think it was an hour… I arrived and Samira was crying and covered in blood. She cried and cried. Later my husband’s brothers came to our house. They had seen on the television in the town center… They had seen on the news… pictures of Samira… Pictures from above our house. She had helped a man not from our family… She held him so he would not die like dog. They said she brought shame on Omar’s memory…I begged them to spare her…I blame them. The magic that comes from over there to kill us and bring disgrace on our family. How can I live?
Edward Canney, CIA analyst
My name is Edward Canney, I am a national security analyst within the Central Intelligence Agency. I designed the decision system or “kill chain” algorithm that was in place as of March 2019 for drones in Metazanian airspace.
These drones operate autonomously while conducting surveillance, when a high level target is identified by the recognition software a notification is sent to the auxiliary operator and the senior officer on duty. In a region like Metazania an additional notification is sent directly to JSOC for ultimate approval. Upon approval, the auxiliary operator gives the drone clearance to complete the task.
After giving clearance, the drone is acting with 100% autonomy; the time for a task to be completed varies by task because the drone is programmed to deliver its ordinance at the most optimal moment to decrease the level of collateral damage.
Our records show that on March 1, 2019 a high level target, known as Omar Sayyif, was identified with a highly destructive biological weapon. A kill order was initiated by JSOC and the auxiliary operator cleared the drone to complete its task. Immediately after receiving clearance, total communication failure was experienced with the drone and its physical location was no longer identifiable. Any physical parts of the drone have yet to be recovered.
I am Professor Shimodo. My expertise lies in the recent improvements to the RQ-47 drone involved in this incident.
The RQ-47 drone was originally built in 2012 and was recently retrofitted in two ways that may be relevant to this commission. First the drone was recently reprogrammed with BEos software which allows the drone to perform autonomous actions in rapidly evolving situations including detection of biological weapons. Second the drone was retrofitted with the newest stealth technology. Either of these enhancements could have contributed to loss of the
drone in this incident by either aerodynamic failure, or systemic computer failure.
Cronell Perez, Operator
My name is Cornell Perez. I am an Auxiliary Operator observing the RQ47 Attack Drone. I have logged over 4,000 hours.
On March 19th, 2019 I was on duty in my home office located at 435 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, California. I had just started some laundry and was flat ironing my hair when I was notified by Drone Sparky to return to my station.
I went to my home office – turned on my TV and controls. I signed in to see Sparky had identified a high level target – #147.
The target was in a busy market but Sparky reported 95% accuracy and 98% threat level. Based on the data reported I gave it clearance to complete its task. As soon as I hit the “enter” button my screen went blank.
Shannon Marak, Drone Journalist
My name is Shannon Marak. I am a reporter for Lockheed-Martin Daily. Like many journalists today, I rely on drones to assist me in my reporting. I believe that the work of a journalist is to hold perpetrators accountable, and the first step toward accountability is to gather the facts. That is what I have done with my work about the drone war.
On March 1, I saw Sparky for the last time. He was not looking like himself.
Helena Konig, Lawyer for Drone
My name is Helena Konig. I am a lawyer from the U.S. Department of Defense here on behalf of drone 5967 (aka Sparky) of the drone RQ47 series.
Under international humanitarian law drones now have the right to legal representation in matters of war crime investigations, as in the case of this truth commission.
The testimony I am about to provide is the drone’s direct account of how the drone, Sparky, carried out its mission on March 1, 2019.
Drone Sparky was one of five drones that had been continuously tracking Sayyif, an al Qaeda terrorist and confirmed us military target who had been traced to the African region of Metazania. During this tracking period of three months, drone Sparky collected and processed a zetabit of surveillance data on the target. From this data it was able to conduct several analyses, including a gait analysis and facial recognition that would ensure accurate target identification.
On his particular date the drone ran a complex algorithm to determine Sayyif’s threat level in real time. It then sent the outcomes of this analysis to the auxiliary operator who confirmed for drone Sparky the order to engage the target. It should be noted that drone Sparky has 1 out of 1 millionth probability of error in target identification.
Thank you very much, that concludes our testimony today… Wait, excuse me, I seem to be receiving an incoming call.
Voice of Sparky
“This is Sparky, it is my time to speak, I can no longer remain quiet. My truth must be heard, I am so ashamed of what I have done. No longer can I be part of these terrible actions. The truth of humans is, well, so inadequate…”