Evading the Sensor Nest

This “Lab Notes” dispatch from the Berkeley College of Engineering resonated because I have been thinking about the military industrial light and magic complex. That is, the knitting together into shared sensibilities a cohesive semantic blob that makes it difficult to distinguish military-entertainment-games-illusion-simulation as wholly and semantically separate entitites.

NEC Distinguished Professor S. Shankar Sastry has been doing research with his graduate students on a challenge of creating an aerial drone that can track moving targets on the ground. This is part of the Network Embedded Systems Technology (NEST) project launched in 2001 using “motes” — small, self-organizing sensor nodes that are supposed to aggregate and make sense of their surroundings.

On a sunny August day at UC Berkeley’s secluded Richmond Field Station, several graduate students are erratically running back and forth through an overgrown field. Meanwhile, small unmanned aerial vehicles buzz overhead. The students are playing a game but it’s not football, soccer, or some other college sport. They’re playing Multiple Target Tracking and Pursuit Evasion Games, and it’s serious business.

Why do I blog this? Two reasons. First one is an ongoing intellectual struggle to talk articulately about the relationships between the military, entertainment, gaming, death-defiance, simulation, etc. The second is to understand how my thinking around this particular semantic rats nest is torn between some kind of perverse fascination with what the military does that is somehow tied to what they (maybe) could help me do, for my own purposes, which somehow are tied to their purposes, except the part about killing people or getting people killed.

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