Artificial Killing Machine

L.A. artist [Jonathan Fletcher Moore] sent us this fantastic tech-art piece on dehumanization and drone warfare. Talking too much about art is best left to the artists, so we’ll shut up and let you watch the video below the break.

artificial_killing_machine_0011_800The piece is essentially a bunch of old cap guns with servos that pull their triggers. A Raspberry Pi with an Internet connection fetches data on US drone strikes from and fires off a cap every time someone is killed. At the same time, the story version of the data is printed out in thermal paper that cascades onto the floor.

Viewers are encouraged to sit underneath all the cap guns and wait. Talk about creepy and suspenseful. And a tiny reflection of the everyday fears that people who live under drone-filled skies.

Buakm_screencap_v2_0003t alongside a powerful statement, technical craftsmanship matters when you’re making art. Painting everything white makes it visually uniform, sterile, and a little bit spooky.

And we’ll admit that we think that nicely laced cabling just looks sexy. (We’ve taken other random opportunities to pimp it before, but go have a look at NASA’s guidelines (PDF) on the matter.)

OK, this project / art piece is far too refined for the term “hack”, but as [Jonathan] says himself:

The entire project’s backbone is the use of off the shelf and open-source micro-controllers (raspberry pi) … I think instills a great sense of just how accessible technology has become.

121 thoughts on “Artificial Killing Machine

    1. Yes it is eerie and concerning. But consider: Terrorist extremists kill more people every day for what appear to us as senseless reasons, than drone strikes ever did. To point the so called finger of blame at one particular country or group is closed minded and insensitive in and of itself. I understand the connotation, technology making the kill ‘inhuman’, but by directing it toward only drones, it really seems like somebody is trying to make a statement about how a specific country uses them, rather then looking the real problem in the face; that so many people in this world are so narrow and closed minded that they would rather kill to promulgate their belief system or ideas, rather than working through negotiation and education to help others understand the merits of a particular way of life.

      Why not make a statement about the general state of Humanity, rather than try to point the ‘finger’ at a particular country or group, and guide the debate in that direction to solve the real problem, not do what seems to be so terribly popular nowadays, and bash America. It seems everyone’s knee-jerk reaction is to say how evil ‘America’ is, when in reality this is such a wider, more world inclusive problem. You could just as easily have used stories that mention ‘kills’ or murders from any source, not drones, and made just as much, if not more, of a statement.

        1. Sadly, There is no one place to gather all the data. The media doesnt tell you how many children and others are killed by terrorist activities on a daily basis. The real fact is nobody will ever know the true toll they take on human life. If you look at what The Nazis did in WW2, it amounts approx 11 million persons.

          While historical data, this can give a you an idea of scope.

          The very site used for this art piece estimates about 2500 killed in the last six years by drones. See here:

          This is totally dwarfed by the number of deaths attributed to terrorism last year alone:

          Note that the above does not include any collateral damage from extra combat operations conducted by such organizations that we don’t know about.

          This is a problem for everybody. America is not perfect. The human race is not perfect. Instead of dividing one another and pointing the finger of blame, lets work together to fix the real problem! We are all in this together after all…

        2. Sadly, There is no one place to gather all the data. The media doesn’t tell you how many children and others are killed by terrorist activities on a daily basis. The real fact is nobody will ever know the true toll they take on human life. Drone attacks are followed closely because of their profile. They don’t tell the whole story, only one side.

          A site the follows drone activity closely estimates about 2500 killed in the last six years by drones. See here:

          This is totally dwarfed by the number of deaths attributed to terrorism last year alone:

          Note that the above does not include any collateral damage from extra combat operations conducted by such organizations that we don’t know about.

          This is a problem for everybody. America is not perfect. The human race is not perfect. Instead of dividing one another and pointing the finger of blame, lets work together to fix the real problem! We are all in this together after all…

          I think my initial reply got gobbled by the troll catcher because of some specific terms. I hope this helps…

        3. The site has documented terrorist attacks since 9/11/2001. Information includes where, how and body count. The entire site is excellent but to the point of this conversation check out the left column for a weekly tally under “Attacks”.

      1. Because American citizens can’t change what Middle Eastern terrorists choose to do. We *can* change what our own government does.

        And because “those guys over there are even worse” is a pretty shitty excuse for murdering people.

  1. Ahaha, an art project by people who think they actually understand humanity, how cute. Everybody talks about peace while turning a blind eye to all the bad people in the world.

    I’d love a society where we’re not all cunts. But there’s no such thing.

    1. Who said anything about claiming to understand humanity? They’re just sharing a view of reality through their piece. Quit being condescending and so quick to assume.

        1. Wow Fennec. Do you realize that there are other people who have different perspectives on the world? And exactly which part of it was it that you clearly had a problem with?

          The part where people consider that there’s other human beings out there in the world right now not knowing if they’re still going to be alive tomorrow or if tonight is the night when they are burned alive?

          I’d appreciate it if you could try to be part of a more thoughtful and less horrendously arrogant and abrasive internet discussion.


          1. That’s the only response worthy to give to people that are so insanely religiously liberal and anti-American that it is absolutely impossible to reason with them. They live in some alternate fantasy universe completely devoid of reality. They absolutely reject facts. They are facts resistant. There’s no point in being nice to them.

            So, yeah. Shut the fuck up.

    2. I was thinking a companion piece in the elevator would be good. It could do an unexpected drop every time a homosexual is thrown from the roof of a tall building under those same drone filled skies.

    3. Okay, this comment was reported enough times to be kicked into the trash. Kicking it into the trash also breaks comment threading.

      I’m bringing this comment back out of the trash, which should make it immune to more reports. end meta-comment

      This also isn’t really that *bad* of a comment, but this post is getting a lot of views from the hacker news crowd. Remember: just because you don’t approve of certain speech doesn’t mean that speech doesn’t have a right to exist.

  2. Maybe I just don’t “get it” but drone strikes are conducted by people. Ultimately the entire decision to release a weapon is controlled by a person(if I am wrong I am sure a HaD commenter will correct me). At least at this point in time. So having something scrap a website and and fire a gun every time a news article mentions a drone as the tool of choice implies that the process is entirely without emotion and without human involvement. Today that simply is not the case. Hundreds of people are tasked with identifying a target, categorizing it, authorizing lethal force, yet more people are tasked with actually using the targeting sensors on the drone to acquire the target, and release a weapon. Anyone along the way can choose not to fire. What this says if anything is that people really don’t understand the kind of war that is being fought across many lands and with a huge variety of technological tools that are generally meant to be much more granular in there selections then most conventional alternatives.

      1. If you are being targeted by a guided weapon costing more than $40,000 US each- Then you deserve it. A lot of careful thought goes into target selection. If you are selected as a target, then you did something really bad.

          1. Soft targets can move quickly. It often takes multiple munition deployments to destroy a target. And, as Mark said, high explosives are not laser beams, and often have collateral casualties.

          2. “As long as they get the 41 targets. High explosives have a lot of collateral damage.”

            What is wrong with you? Do you think this is a game of some kind?
            Too much Fox News?
            Or were you just born with a total lack of empathy?

            If there is good evidence that someone is a “bad guy” then they should be punished – I’m not too concerned how, but the important part is that THEY should be punished not some kids who happened to be in the street outside at the time. Killing over 40 to get 1 is not an acceptable approach for a civilized country to adopt.

          1. I’m going to keep saying this until it happens: HAD comments need a ‘like’ button, or some such indicator. It would help limit the number of responses. In the meantime, consider your comment ‘liked.’

        1. OK, I will accept that there is a difference between the meaning of ‘fired at’ and ‘targeted’. I think others have demonstrated the ‘alternate’ view that I have. Perhaps that is what this piece of tech-art is saying all along.

        2. WOAH what an absolutely fucked up statement.

          “If your 40th floor office window was targeted by a multi million dollar airliner filled passengers and jet fuel andbpiloted by a terrorist, then you deserved it.”

          Serious WTF moment here.
          Think about the blanket application of your logical statement before you state it.

          1. I did think about it. I stand by my statement. Every side has targets. If someone can’t afford drones and guided munitions, they will improvise. There is no “I’m right, You’re wrong”, or “We’re good, They’re bad”. If you have the means to kill at a long standoff distance, then you will do so.

        3. Clearly, if the US Government has decided you should be killed, there is no doubt of your guilt.
          It is absolutely laughable that within the borders of the US, that an outdate piece of paper called the Constitution forces the waste of money involved in arraignment, trial by jury and at least one appeal trial before someone can be killed, when clearly the Government already knows who is guilty. Remember the same agency figuring out who is guilty overseas is the one who proved that there were WMDs in Iraq necessitating a war. These guys never get it wrong.

        4. And I’m sure if American police officers kill you, you deserved it too. (Especially if you’re black.)

          There are many reports of drones killing innocent civilians. That careful thought just doesn’t happen.

        5. Just curious Mark, and I realize you weren’t involved with the choices made here, but what could those 168-204 directly targeted children aged 13 years or younger have possibly done to deserve it?

          These weren’t casualties as in near by some other target and were killed due to the nature and range of explosives, these were children selected as targets and fired upon.

          Short of picking up a weapon and using it against the military, which was not the case, what could a child have done that was so “really bad” to justify even being targeted?

          I’m also curious how to rectify your opinion that they deserved it together with the fact the Government admitted 24 of those children should not have been targeted at all and was a tragic mistake, when you clearly state those 24 also did something really wrong and deserved their fate?

    1. I guess I don’t “get it” either. All I see here is a ludicrously artsy-fartsy piece villainizing a legitimate military tool. These hippies/artists don’t seem to “get it” that there are evil people in the world, and that the world is a better and safer place without those people. These people would happily behead innocent people and proudly display their corpses for all the world to see. A drone strike against such a piece of human filth is exactly the right treatment. Quick, efficient, accurate, and it doesn’t put good people into the line of fire.

      I wonder if these “artists” would be so quick to denigrate drone strikes if these evil people were beheading people in Southern California rather than in the Middle East.

      1. Here’s the problem: who decides who is “artsy-fartsy” and who is “human filth” and who are the “good people”…?

        And if you don’t get that, then perhaps you should start with the basics: there is black, there is white, and there are a million grays between’em.

          1. The US government (I am not referring to US citizens) put it’s superior morals on display for all the world to see when it punished Iraq for placing their country right on top of American oil!

          2. There was no reply button for ROB, so this should put my comment hopefully next to his. maybe he’ll read it.

            The US gets around 13% of all of its oil from the middle east – 8.1 just from Saudi Arabia. The get so little oil from Iraq, that they could stop getting oil from them and the would be fine with another country providing the slack without any issue. This line of thinking that the US relies so heavily on Middle East oil is ridiculous, and needs to stop. They don’t. It costs way too much to transport it all the way just to refine and use it. The majority of Middle east oil ends up in Europe, Africa, and SE Asia.
            Want to know where US gets its oil from – 39% is domestically produced (offshore and inland wells) on US soil; another 19% from Latin America (Mexico & Venezuela account for 13.4%); another 15% just from Canada (they USA’s single largest oil provider!!!), and 10% from Africa (5.2%just from Nigeria) and another 3% as “other”.

            TL:DR::::That’s 87% of oil in the US _NOT_ brought in from the Middle East, so hopefully you’ve been enlightened and stop repeating garbage “facts”.

          3. @cHRIS
            I accept your point. I could add that at the time Iraq oil was being sold against USD and they were about to switch to trading against the Euro. The global price of oil is the same no matter where it comes from.

            But I don’t have to stop there. I could suggest that Irag had to be bombed because it had been taken over by aliens from another planet. This is still more credible than the WMD argument that was presented at the time.

        1. “Here’s the problem: who decides who is “artsy-fartsy” and who is “human filth” and who are the “good people”…?”

          I guess you are the one that does. Only your perspective is correct.

          There is no doubt liberals would use drones against those ‘radical right-wing extremists’ if they knew they could get away with it.

          So many hypocrites in this thread.

          1. You think liberals, the anti-war crowd, would drone the conservatives, the pro-war crowd?

            Sorry, but sometimes I just shake my head at the world.

          2. Noirwhal,

            It used to be that liberals were an anti-war crowd, but the US’ current president is liberal and more people have been killed by drone attack – both intentionally and collaterally (not to mention the first US citizen killed by US drone attack) – than under the previous president who was conservative.

            Whether by drone, or manned fighter jet, the policy that planning an attack is equivalent to engaging in combat has allowed the US government to justify assassination while claiming it does not take part in assassination because it is only attacking “enemy combatants.” The irony is a US soldier on the ground would be court-martialed for shooting someone who wasn’t actively fighting or pointing a weapon, but a US airman at a control station is go for weapons release on mourners at a funeral by the president’s order.

          3. 5trikeforCe,

            Lets review what you said,

            Liberals are anti-war, that goes pretty much without saying.

            Our current president has authorized lots of drones.

            Isn’t it logical to then conclude our president isn’t liberal?

      2. There are indeed evil people in the world but perhaps you should look closer to home for who they are.
        Invading and bombing countries across the middle east in order to steal their natural resources while countless innocent lives are lost sounds rather “evil” to me….

        1. I have heard a lot of non-Americans say that, but it is just not true. If we wanted Iraq’s resources for example, we would have just taken over the country instead of trying to stabilize their government (which didn’t work) so we could buy resources from them.

          1. Then perhaps you should show me where the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ are in Iraq!
            While your at it, please explain to me why the US military had to censor news about that war?

      3. “These people would happily behead innocent people and proudly display their corpses”

        How do you tell who “these people” are? In civilized countries it’s done by the process of a jury trial. How are we so sure that “these people” are “these people” without holding a trial and weighing the evidence. The same agency telling the president (who signs off on the targets) is the same agency that told the president there were WMDs in Iraq. Just how infallible do you think they are?

        What justifies the killing of the people who just happen to live, work, or pass by “these people” when “these people” are killed?

    2. The topic of drone strikes is anything but black and white. To me the database shows that. It’s a hell-uv-a-lot of murkiness.

      You could argue that the act of having hundreds of people carrying out these acts also serve as another form of autonomization. When a group acts on making decisions large or small, the consequences of those actions are spread out amongst the group. In that regard it has the same effect of distancing the consequences of physical reality from the individual.

      1. Thing is there have always been hundreds of people making the call. When a fighter/bomber pilot is ordered to fire a weapon there is a long chain behind him, it’s just now the pilot sits in a room perhaps a few dozen kilometers away.
        Despite the chain of command, one guy or girl still has to pull the trigger and I can guarantee you that for the most part they will always have those moments on their mind. They will always know that they have killed people, combat pilots have dealt with the issue since the first combat planes were deployed in the first World War. Maybe they can try to rationalise it using the group behind them but again, the people who fire bombed Dresden probably used RAF command to rationalise what they were doing.

        1. The other issue with the chain of command is that in a plane, the person pulling the trigger with information being fed to them by enlisted men/women but with target orders from a higher rank. If they can not determine the target, they are officers and the people on the other end of the radio are enlisted and can’t really argue. Sure, it might mean they don’t fly again, or are stuck at rank, but they have the choice in the air to “not see” the target.

          Drones, on the other hand, may be piloted by anyone; I don’t know what the current situation is. But they have that high rank official looking over their shoulder most of the time, there to second guess their choice immediately and “order” them to pull the trigger.

          Every move is now scrutinized, and blame never goes up-hill despite who orders it.

      2. The problem with the drone strikes isn’t the weapons used, but rather the targets.

        They aren’t just targeting troops in battle. They aren’t just destroying military supplies. They are targeting people who have been *accused* of making plans to attack the US. They are attacking them in their homes and in their communities while they are not engaged in warfare.

        Imagine the American reaction if the Russians made an airstrike on US soil and killed someone they suspected of planning a terrorist attack on a train in Moscow. Imagine that in the process they also killed half a dozen kids and an old lady that lived next door where to where he was hiding in Compton.

        Americans would be livid – we would say that is the wrong thing to do – that there should have been boots on the ground to arrest him, he should have been extradited and he should have stood trial and then put to death or imprisoned if found guilty.

        Instead the justifications come that putting boots on the ground to arrest him would be dangerous to the officers trying to make the arrest in the Compton gang territory, and that he might have gotten away. The collateral deaths are unfortunate, but he was a really bad guy and that was the most practical way to stop him.

        If other countries pulled this kind of stuff in US borders there would be all-out open warfare, yet the US is happy to do it in the middle-east and so many Americans are happy to justify it because the targets are “bad people.”

    3. I think the idea is often that the entire process has become a strange and abstracted dehumanized process as the people involved operating the drones are themselves part of a warped and alien culture that is very far removed from the way that a lot of people see things.

        1. You are crazed. The drones have nothing to do with this article you keep linking.

          You have to ask yourself, if you posess intellectual honesty, what would cause this event you keep linking. Why would that happen? If you say “they want to destroy our freedom”, I am afraid you will find the ‘evil doers’ have had little impact on our ‘way of life’ compared to the corporate\military industrial complex run political world and things like Patriot Act, NDAA, Freedom act, and the rest of these scurrilous unconstitutional ‘acts’.

          If 1 crazy wannabe jihadist kills 1 cop every few years, I hardly think that justifies the entirety of the drone program.

        2. That was about as humane as running torture camps and denying prisoners basic human rights. Or invading a foreign country on false pretenses and killing 150,000 to over a million Iraqis. I guess these were all vicious murderers at heart, eh. The death of a few thousand New Yorkers a few years back? A drop in the bucket.

          Keep in mind that US media do not report the same thing that global media do. They skip over the difficult to swallow parts, and everything you read and hear is reduced into something simple. It never actually is.

        3. Are you really saying that drones would have been a more effective way to take out a terrorist shooter in Tennessee than the police officers on the ground who stopped him?

          That’s the first time I’ve heard someone advocate that we start treating our own country the way we’re treating Afghanistan.

    1. I’m not trying to belittle you, just help you with your English, (I believe English is not your first language).
      “choice” instead of “chose”.
      If you are a native English speaker/writer, I accept the possibility of an auto-correct error.

  3. I like how the creator only gather’s data for three locations, which in itself implies bias towards other locations in the world.
    No machine at this point of time can distinguish between a solder, terrorist, freedom fighter, rebel.

        1. I think they can. And do. And I think they feel each civilian death by their hand and are forced to try to believe that killing those who butcher hundreds more in some small way makes it worth it. Not okay but at least not pointless killing.

          1. I can’t imagine a way in which it would be acceptable for you and your family to be killed because your neighbor had committed an act of terror.

      1. Humans are not machines, and shouldnt be asked to act like machines.

        Once you start viewing a human as a ‘cog’, or especially trying to form a human into a cog, you have lost humanity.

    1. The data is more than three locations.

      The database contains every location that a drone strike has struck. The information comes from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism which has collected and researched each of these ‘strike incidents’ from multiple sources.

      It just so happens that the only locations that the U.S. strikes is Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Waziristan, Afghanistan. It is possible for others to pop up, but so far I am not aware of others.

    1. It does need a 115 page document. And that’s nothing- They have equally large documents for things like conformal coating, soldering, crimping, swagging, thermal stripping, and on, and on.
      Any of these things, if not done properly, can fail a billion dollar mission (the average space shuttle mission was one billion), or kill an astronaut or ground support crew member.

    2. Oh, yes, because you work in the aerospace industry.

      NASA even goes so far as to have strict coding standards including a ban on recursion. They’re the ones with things in the sky; they know their shit.

      If they didn’t have standards, then you’d be the idiot crying about the lives lost because of a shoddy wiring job, rather than the idiot crying about wiring standards.

      1. What!!!! No recursion!!! Damn that’s my favourite Fu(k you tactic for new coders. I even include a static variable that indirectly effects recursion depth. Like (Static) $recursion_depth = $recursion_depth – 5; That really fu(ks them lol.

        Another is to place a constructor several layers deep and seemingly randomly adding objects to the structure at different levels and then passing it by reference to other levels to see if they can follow that scoping.

        Yes, I am a evil evil coder. lol

        1. I recall a proof (Dijkstra, Hoare, Wirth?) that recursions can all be done in loops and more efficiently, and of course without the danger of running out of memory.

          1. I can’t see how one could be more ‘efficient’ than the other. Their both looping structures. Perhaps in some languages it could b=use more resources if the garbage collection of each scope isn’t done when that scope is closed.

    3. To be honest, that 115 page document has a lot of gems on how to create some beautiful wiring harnesses that have to be 100% reliable for years on end.

      If it was a simple case of nipping into your local auto-elec whenever you have a wiring problem then such detail isn’t required but when your building mission critical wiring that has to be perfect for decades without service or if human lives are at stake and replacement is just not possible then a nights worth of reading for a technician or line operator is not unreasonable.

      Having worked in an automotive transmission factory I have seen the wiring that runs inside the transmission and it is a work of art in it’s own right. It has to snake its way around moving components, it has to deal with VERY hot oil, it has to deal with vibration and human lives are dependant on it functioning perfectly. To be honest, this kind of detailed documentation is a lifesaver

    4. The company I’m at now was nearly shut down because a supplier failed to put crimp pins on wires correctly. The NASA document NASA-STD 8739.4 has simple, easy to follow recommendations that would have entirely avoided the problem, but the company did not have any such standard in place. It’s non-treatment medical equipment, so not aerospace. Pretty much, if it uses something more than wire–nuts, there’s a good reason for a decent spec.

    5. NASA often faces the situation where a single poorly run wire or a loose bolt will cause a multi-billion dollar mission to fail. Once something is in space, you don’t get a chance to fix it (unless it is the Hubble space telescope).

  4. Interesting art piece and interesting comments here. I like how artistic statement machines can provide an experience uniquely different than a picture or video, even just seeing a video of the machine is different than a video with facts and images of drones. What kind of an machine would illustrate some of the contrary opinions expressed here? I would like to see those machines to.
    I doubt I will be seeing this machine in person but I’ll share my story: I farm in a Navy jet training area. Several times a year I’m driving along in a tractor or standing beside one turning a wrench on a rusty bolt and I hear the whisper of a jet lined up on me.
    Whether the actual targets are justified or not, that experience! looking up and – “whoa, that’s a…” ROAR

  5. Hackaday: come for the hacks, stay for the needlessly escalating, increasingly irrelevant and vitriolic comment threads. I have to say, I had no idea that people existed who loved drones/drone strikes so much.

    I’m aware that if I didn’t talk about the piece featured I would be a part of the problem I mentioned above, so I must say, political message aside, it’s a pretty good “hack”. Strong aesthetics, well filmed, and certainly gets a message and information out there. I’m not surprised it got commissioned.

    1. These are pretty powerful issues. I think any forum that references them is going to create quite a long and involved conversation. It would be pretty difficult to divorce the hardware and engineering from the issue which was its central germinating idea.
      I agree with you though, a poorly done version of this may have missed the mark.

  6. I think just the amount of comments on this implies it’s success as a piece of art. Art is there to make people think, and make people talk. Say what you will, but here, at least, it seems to be doing so.
    Personally, I like it.

  7. Not all the geeky stuff are smart or wise… Technology needs big minds to dream the future and the worlds hopes not small ones to promote violence… I am sorry for you…

  8. “fantastic”, Elliot?
    Appears to be another juvenile art student appealing to their alpha instructor’s political leanings by cowardly making insinuations WITHOUT OFFERING ANY REAL SOLUTIONS.
    Maybe the word ‘fantastic’ does apply.
    What’s neat about good art is that it allows people to come up with their own interpritation and gives insight into the minds of people commenting on it. As opposed to this, which is bassically beating you over the head with the artists ‘message’.
    Cool cabling though bro.Killing is wrong. The arti

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