Crash theory: Drone entanglements with endangered species
by Adam Fish, University of South Wales
Drones crash into everything: oceans, lakes, glaciers, trees, cars, people, buildings, temples, birds, chimpanzees, mountains, windows, boutiques, power poles, trains, boats, canyons, hot air balloons, bridges, prisons, oil refineries, oil pipelines, nuclear power plants, airplanes, helicopters, agricultural fields, stadiums, bicycles, bullets fired from police officers, the White House lawn, Seattle Space Needle, and the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence.
It is not only drones that crash. Seventy-five percent of the earth and 66% of the sea are severely degraded by human activity; this is threatening 1 million species with extinction. Sixty-percent of wildlife has disappeared over the past 30 years.
Drones provide a means of sensing the earth; witnessing these human impacts, diminishing habitats, and disappearing wild animals. And yet, even when the drone is crashing or has crashed it remains an important object through which to understand the emergent relationship between humans, technologies, and species.
Working from ethnographic, reflexive, and experimental dronework, this film examines this relationship through the event of the crashing drone, exploiting a material link shared by crashing drones and collapsing species, and in the process, challenges the accepted hybridity of nature and culture.
In short, this film advances three insights: 1) using drones for field science is an experimental and contingent practice linking humans, technologies, and other species; 2) these linkages become most evident during crashes, where the challenges of conservation become clear; and 3) drone crashes expose the points of friction in the convergence of nature and culture.
To empirically define crash theory, this film provides case studies of conservation drones and speculates on what their crashes, or the threat of their crashes, materialize. Drone crashes in the United Kingdom near white rhinoceroses reveal the imbroglio of the electromagnetic spectrum during the generation of machine learning training data, the threat of drone crashes in Washington State near orcas uncovers the impacts of wildlife protection laws and their negotiation, and drone crashes and their aftermath in Sri Lanka around Asian elephants presents the problems of technological repair for impoverished agrarians.
Crashes diffract, exposing the wiring of our tools, relationships to natural forces, and aspirations towards control. Crashes reveal how conservation technologies do not immutably blend nature and culture; they do not hybridize endangered species into cyborgs. Rather crashes show how humans and tools and elements and nonhuman species are different; they emerge from the same force of nature but are have distinct agencies, intentionalities, applications, and futures. In a world that is falling apart, what is needed is an approach that acknowledges care and repair. The paradox is that with this care comes a control that, in turn, erodes during a crash. In examining drone failures, this film reveals the breaking points of governmentality and its aspiration of control. Crash theory emerges from the spaces between entropy and ecology, decay and dependence. Responding to the crashing drone and collapsing species with care and repair are necessary to reverse the demise of extinction.
Adam Fish is Scientia Fellow at University of New South Wales, Sydney and Senior Research Fellow at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society, Berlin. He is a cultural anthropologist and documentary producer working across social science, computer engineering, environmental science, and the visual arts. Fish has authored 3 books: Hacker States (2020 MIT); Technoliberalism (Palgrave Macmillan 2017); and After the Internet (Polity 2017). His 4th book, Drone Justice, is forthcoming (MIT).
Roboto Regular Font Entry (Not displayed, do not remove)
Roboto Regular Italic Font Entry (Not displayed, do not remove)
Roboto Bold Font Entry (Not displayed, do not remove)
Roboto Bold Italic Font Entry (Not displayed, do not remove)
Arbutus Font Entry (Not displayed, do not remove)