2024/01/01. Essay: Algorithmic Predictions and Pre-emptive Violence, Journal of Digital War

Anthony Downey, “Algorithmic predictions and pre‑emptive violence: artificial intelligence and the future of unmanned aerial systems”, Journal of Digital War, edited by Illingworth, Downey, Hoskins & Salecl (Vol. 5, no.1-2 January 2024).

The military rationale of a pre-emptive strike is predicated upon the calculation and anticipation of threat. The underlying principle of anticipation, or prediction, is foundational to the operative logic of AI. The deployment of predictive, algorithmically driven systems in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) would therefore appear to be all but inevitable. However, the fatal interlocking of martial paradigms of pre-emption and models of predictive analysis needs to be questioned, not least when we consider how the irreparable decisiveness of a pre-emptive military strike is often at odds with the probabilistic predictions of AI. Through defining the deterministic intentionality and systematic biases of algorithms, we can more effectively establish the degree to which individuals and communities are exposed to the fact of imminent death and injury based on a projected, but invariably probabilistic, calculus of “threat”. If the present-day prosecution of global conflict is predicated upon and calibrated by algorithmic rationalizations of “threat”, we need to pose an urgent question: What is the future of death in an algorithmic age and who—or, more precisely, what—will get to decide its biopolitical and legal definitions?

For full text, see here

2023/31/08 Publication: Neocolonial Visions: Algorithmic Violence and Unmanned Aerial Systems

In the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) threatened to inflict significant casualties on the ground troops of the United States and Allied Forces. This led to unprecedented levels of investment in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and the ensuing ascendancy of wide-area persistent surveillance systems (WAPSS) across the region. These prototypes of hyper-surveillance and targeting were inevitably supported and powered by developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Combining the predictive logic of AI and the martial rationalisation of the pre-emptive strike, these technological and logistic alliances sought to not only calculate risk and threat but to  eliminate it before it materialises. They seek, in short, to occupy the future in the name of terrestrial and extra-terrestrial dominance. Throughout the following essay, Anthony Downey (Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa at Birmingham City University) examines the historical contexts and current deployments of such systems, enquiring into how neocolonial projections of power are implicated in the martial and political will to occupy the future. What happens, he asks, when we defer life-and-death decisions to a mechanical calculus of probability that is beholden to martial devices of pre-emption, political expediencies and the neocolonial logic of expendability.

To read the full essay and download the book, see here.

2023/31/05 Essay: Mnemotechnics: Digital Epistemologies and the Techno-Politics of Archiving a Revolution

Published in The Handbook of Media and Culture in the Middle East (Wiley-Blackwell, 2023), this chapter discusses Heba Y. Amin’s Project Speak2Tweet (2011–ongoing) and how it assumed – through the archiving of a selection of voices first recorded as part of the Speak2Tweet initiative launched on January 31, 2011 – responsibility for digitally preserving and representing revolutionary voices. Although intimately connected with and yet independent of the original Speak2Tweet initiative, Project Speak2Tweet is not solely an archive. It is, rather, a mnemotechnic device – a technology of recall in its own right – that questions how memory is digitized, archived, retrieved and, thereafter, subjected to a digital apparatus that ultimately determines (and simultaneously undermines) how we garner historical knowledge through online platforms today. The chapter enquires, more specifically, into whether the digital methodologies that evolve out of interventions such as Project Speak2Tweet can question the substance of an online social media archive – in its compromised capacity as a “container” of meaning – while also productively extending its potential as an effective means to address past events in the present.

To read the full essay, see here

2023/15/03 Talk: (with Maya Indira Ganesh): Neo-colonial Visions: Artificial Intelligence and Epistemic Violence

Neo-colonial Visions: Artificial Intelligence and Epistemic Violence Artificial Intelligence (AI), often presented as an objective “view from nowhere”, constitutes a regime of power that further establishes historical forms of bias and evolving models of subjugation. A key component in this process, this presentation will suggest, involves the extraction of data from digital images in order to train AI. How, therefore, do we understand the transformation of images from their symbolic and representational contexts to their contemporary function as sources of digital data? Bringing together researchers in the field of visual culture and AI technology, and taking as its starting point the representational biases of colonial imagery, Anthony Downey and Maya Indira Ganesh will explore how the digital image has increasingly become the means to extract, archive and repurpose information. Based on the extraction and statistical repurposing of data, they will observe how AI renders entire communities susceptible to encoded and overt forms of epistemological violence. Designed for the purpose of training machine vision and the apparatus of AI, these repurposed “images” reveal, furthermore, how the extractive practices of colonialism have become inexorably aligned with corporate interests and neo-colonial economies of data extraction.

Please, book your tickets here

2023/02/02 Talk: (with Alaa Mansour and Lesia Kulchynska): How an Image Matters, Transmediale (Berlin)

transmediale 2023, How an Image Matters, Panel, CCBYNCSA Silke Briel

Images matter. Made up of imaging technologies and algorithmic processes, their optics and operative logics of capture silently scale between shopping habits, domestic robots, CCTV, drone surveillance, or guided munitions. Aided by AI technologies, images can reorganise what we know, they can propagate what is seen and unseen, and they can cause irreparable harm.

Exploring how images are mobilised to exploit feedback and create realities, Anthony Downey, Alaa Mansour, and Lesia Kulchynska trace their entanglement within broader infrastructures of data capture and analysis. Thinking through their algorithmic apparatus, their fracturing of light and logistical operations, How an image matters questions the calculated representations and distributed agency of automated operations.

For more information, please click here

2022/06/02 Essay: “The Algorithmic Apparatus of Neocolonialism: Counter-Operational Practices and the Future Of Aerial Surveillance”

Image from “Topologies of Air” (2021), courtesy of Shona Illingworth
“Human beings must learn anew to recognize the pattern of the earth from the perspective of the air.” —Harun Farocki, Images of the World and the Inscription of War, 1988

What forms of aerial threat do communities across the globe endure today, and how do they differ from previous levels of exposure? If we consider the apparently unstoppable ascendancy of drone reconnaissance and satellite surveillance, then it is evident that we are undergoing an epoch-defining evolution in the deployment of aerial technologies. The multiple concerns raised by civilian, civil rights, humanitarian, and military agencies in relation to autonomous systems of warfare would suggest that such operations have likewise realigned the relationship between the material (physical, environmental, legal) and immaterial (psychological, ethical, and existential) impact of these technologies.

To read the full essay, please click here

2022/06/02 Book: Shona Illingworth: Topologies of Air
(Ed. Anthony Downey, Sternberg Press, 2022)

Topologies of Air and Lesions in the Landscape are two major bodies of work by Shona Illingworth. Informed by the artist’s long-term investigations into individual and societal amnesia, these projects critically examine the devastating psychological and environmental impacts of military, industrial, and corporate transformations of airspace and outer space. Employing interdisciplinary research and collaborative processes, Illingworth’s practice uses creative methodologies to visualize and interrogate this proliferating exploitation of air space. Through the development of a proposed new human right, Topologies of Air and Lesions in the Landscape connect diverse cosmologies, knowledges, and lived experiences to counter the colonization of the sky and protect individuals, communities, and ecologies from ever-increasing threats from above. With contributions by CATERINA ALBANO, AMIN ALSADEN, JILL BENNETT, GIULIANA BRUNO, MARTIN A. CONWAY, ANTHONY DOWNEY, CONOR GEARTY, DEREK GREGORY, NICK GRIEF, ANDREW HOSKINS, CATHERINE LOVEDAY, ISSIE MACPHAIL, WILLIAM MERRIN, RENATASALECL, GABRIELE SCHWAB, GAËTANE VERNA For link to book, see here
For link to Introduction, see here
For PDF of Anthony Downey, “The Algorithmic Apparatus of Neocolonialism: Counter-Operational Practices And The Future Of Aerial Surveillance”, see here

2022/08/04 Book: Khalil Rabah: Falling Forward / Works (1995–2025)

How do cultural institutions and art practices respond to long-standing states of national and international emergency? Khalil Rabah’s artistic practice investigates the future of visual arts production under such conditions. Exploring the relationships between historically sanctioned and experimental exhibition settings, fictional and documentative narratives, and the histories of displacement, his methods not only propose but also produce speculative institutions. Edited by Anthony Downey, the artist’s first major monograph, Falling Forward / Works (1995–2025) presents a comprehensive selection of exhibition materials, previously unseen archival documents and detailed background notes on how Rabah’s methods relate to the broader themes in his work. The volume also introduces new critical writing from curators, authors and researchers on the interrelated subjects of anticipatory aesthetics, subterfuge and fugitive acts; mimicry and performativity; knowledge production; archival technologies; and, crucially, the politics of humour. 

The monograph includes essays by Chiara de Cesari, Anthony Downey, Tom Holert, Chrisoula Lionis, Hoor Al Qasimi, Khalil Rabah and Rasha Salti.

To read Anthony’s essay, “Falling Forward: Speculative Practices and Institutional Realisations”, see here

To read Anthony’s interview with Kahlil, “On What Grounds?”, see here

For copies of the book, see here

2023/06/03: Keynote: Decolonising Machine Vision, Aksioma (Ljubljana)

Although regularly presented as an objective “view from nowhere”, Artificial Intelligence (AI) perpetuates a regime of western power that maintains neo-colonial violence. This is evident in the technological evolution and martial deployment of AI in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Lethal Autonomous Weapons systems (LAWs). Programmed into the such systems, the operative and rationalising logic of algorithms are complicit with reductive determinations of what constitutes life and death in conflict zones. Predicating the ascendant “black box” logic of AI, the historical evolution of autonomous image production continues to be central in, if not fundamental to, these processes and standard operating procedures. To critically address these and other concerns, we need to observe the extent to which colonial technologies—including triangulation mapping, aerial photography, photogrammetry and, more recently, “operational images”—invariably involve the delegation of the ocular-centric, corporeal and proprioceptive event of seeing (and thinking) to the autonomous realms of machine vision. The devolution of deliberative forms of seeing and thinking to algorithms not only reveals, this talk will propose, the calculated rendering of subjects in terms of their disposability, it also discloses a causal, if not fatal, link between colonial technologies of representation and the opaque realm of unaccountable apparatuses. Register here

2022/05/01: Curated Show: When I See The Future, I Close My Eyes: Chapter II (Zilberman Gallery, Berlin).

01/05/2022 – 30/07/2022

Zilberman | Berlin is delighted to announce the solo exhibition When I see the future, I close my eyes: Chapter II by Heba Y. Amin and curated by Anthony Downey.

Heba Y. Amin’s research-based practice proposes speculative, often satirical, approaches to examining how ideals of ‘progress’ have been advanced through the various technologies of colonization. Foregrounding interdisciplinary methods and performative investigations, When I see the future, I close my eyes: Chapter II presents a series of works that explore the political determinations of these technologies and how they define contemporary frames of representation.

For further information, see here.

To read texts and interviews by Anthony Downey and Heba Y. Amin, see here.