Wednesday, June 19, 2019
In The Outline, Will Partin on the animality of drones.
Even so, it’s the textbook’s final chapter, on machine vision, a term that refers to how computers “see” the world through purpose-built sensors, that serves as the final piece in the schematics of autonomy. It is also, not coincidentally, where animals come back into the picture. Like Heidegger pondering a “world” of a lizard on a rock, we might be tempted to imagine that what a drone “sees” is just a lesser version of what our own eyes do. But perhaps the opposite is true. Just as Arctic reindeer that evolved to find lichen using ultraviolet light, drones perceive the world in registers imperceptible to humans; like insects’ compound eyes, drones have as many focal points as they have lenses; and, like bald eagles, who see eight times as far as humans do, drones are capable of picking out and tracking small objects over enormous distances. A drone’s vision, and the world of sensations it can respond to, is decidedly non-human. In that, it shares something with animals. Philosophers who took animals a little more seriously than Heidegger would have no trouble with the idea that animals don’t live in a “diminished” world, but merely a different one.
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