Digital War Symposium

University of Glasgow, Wednesday 20th March, 1.45-6pm

The Journal of Digital War, and the Glasgow Social and Digital Change Group present an afternoon of presentations and discussion on the future of warfare.


A Keynote from William Merrin, Swansea University on Incomprehensible War

Other speakers:

Ian Shaw, University of Glasgow

Joseph DeLappe, Abertay University.

Sophie Dyer, Airwars

Matthew Ford, University of Sussex

Andrew Hoskins, University of Glasgow

Further information and booking

Abstracts and bios

William Merrin, Swansea University

Incomprehensible War

We can barely comprehend the coming forms of 21stcentury war. All we have are outlines, ideas, and nightmare extrapolations from existing technologies, all refracted through our hangover concepts of the 20thcentury. War in the 21stcentury, however, will be as radically different from war in the 20thas the ‘War on Terror’ was from the Battle of Waterloo; or the Battle of Hastings; or even – perhaps – from wars between ant-colonies. Everything about it will be different – where it takes place, when it takes place, who fights it, how it’s fought, if it’s even fought, who will be the victims; whether we’ll even know it’s happening; how ‘victory’ will be understood; whether we’ll ever understand what happened; whether we’ll remember it happened; whether there will ever again even be such a thing as ‘post-war’ or ‘peace’; and even whether humans will have anything to do with what occurs or what comes after. Developments in robotics, A.I., and autonomous weapons systems; in unmanned remote operations, brain-computer interfaces, exo-skeleton and augmentation technologies and enhanced humanity; the sensor, implant and Big Data revolutions; in cyberwar and computer network exploitation, hacking, espionage, exfiltration and malware; in social media manipulation, psyops, troll warfare, information warfare, disinformation warfare and active measures; in participatory war and in Web 2.0 ideational conflict, will – collectively, and in their ongoing interaction – completely remake warfare. This paper, therefore, explores the fate of digital warfare and conflict, and also of humanity.   

William Merrin is Associate Professor of in Media Studies at Swansea University, and the author of Digital War (Polity, 2018), Media Studies 2.0 (Routledge, 2014), and Baudrillard and the Media (Polity, 2005), and co-editor of Trump’s War on the Media (2019) and Jean Baudrillard: Fatal Theories (Routledge, 2009). He is Founding Co-Editor in Chief of the Journal of Digital War.

Ian Shaw, University of Glasgow

Robot War: Westworld and the Weaponization of Consciousness  

In this proactive presentation, I provide reflect on of HBO’s critically acclaimed TV show Westworld. The series is based on the 1973 movie of the same name, written by science-fiction author Michael Crichton. Set in the fictional Westworld, a Wild West amusement park populated by android slaves, high-paying punters can indulge in their wildest fantasies without any retaliation from their artificial “hosts.” Of course, like all good robot stories, not everything goes to plan, and the hosts begin to gain consciousness and plan their escape. I find the show exemplary for capturing our current anxieties—ethical and political—about developing ever-more advanced robots. At the center of our concerns, which stretch from military strategists to moral philosophers, is the ontological status of artificial intelligence. What is it? Can it ever recreate human thinking? And, most importantly of all, what are its world-makingand world-destroyingpotentials? Westworld offers a rich canvas for exploring these themes. This paper thus reads Westworldas a playground for thought, futurologies, politics, and more-than-human ethics.

Ian Shaw is a lecturer in human geography at the University of Glasgow. He studies political geography, philosophy, robot wars, (in)security, political violence, and capitalism. @ianshawz

Joseph DeLappe, Abertay University.

Are Those Real People?

Media artist and activist Joseph DeLappe will present a visual lecture describing a lineage of creative projects and actions that function at the intersections of art, technology, social engagement and interventionist strategies exploring militarism, violence and memory. These will include the 2006 project dead‐in‐iraq, to type consecutively, all names of America's military casualties from the war in Iraq into the America's Army first person shooter online recruiting game. He also created the project, an archive and web based exhibition created from an open call for proposed memorials to the many thousands of civilian casualties from the war in Iraq. More recently he worked with the Biome Collective in Dundee to create Killbox, a BAFTA Scotland nominated game about drone warfare. These projects and ongoing efforts share an approach to critical and conceptual positioning as an artist - developing works that inquisitively engage issues of memory, politics, history, physicality and the virtual. The theoretical basis for the work lies in the belief that it is essential, as an artist and citizen of the world, to engage in, challenge and question the norms and expectations of the digital present and our larger social/political context.

Joseph DeLappe is Professor of Games and Tactical Media at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland. Works in online gaming performance, public engagements, participatory sculpture and electromechanical installation have been shown throughout the United States and internationally. He has developed works for venues such as Eyebeam Art and Technology in New York, The Guangdong Museum of Art, China and Transitio MX, Mexico City, among others. Creative works and actions have been featured widely in scholarly journals, books and in the popular media. In 2016 he collaborated with the Biome Collective in Dundee to create “Killbox”, a game about drone warfare that was nominated in 2017 for a BAFTA Scotland in the “Best Computer Game” catagory. In 2017 he was awarded Guggenheim Fellowship in the Fine Arts, one of the top awards for artists, writers and creatives in the United States. 

Sophie Dyer, Airwars

Conflicting Truths

To date, the US-led Coalition has conceded 1,190 civilian deaths over its four-year campaign against the so-called Islamic State. Conversely, by listening to social media, local news and speaking to monitors on the ground, Airwars has recorded over 28,000 alleged deaths and after provisional assessment, places the minimum number of civilians likely killed by Coalition air and artillery strikes at between 7,400 to 11,800.

In an effort to reconcile its records with those of the Coalition, Airwars has maintained regular exchanges with the US-led alliance since its civilian harm cell was established in December 2016. Despite this, and recognition from military sources of the credible contributions made by NGOs to civilian harm monitoring, the transparency of Coalition civilian casualty and strike reports remains inadequate – and the official death toll, implausibly low.

In 2017, a New York Times article called civilians killed by Coalition strikes “the uncounted”. For the American philosopher, Judith Butler, they are the “ungrievable”. In other words, those whose deaths do not fit within the many – aesthetic, juridical and narrative – frames of war.

Taking as its focus two recent collaborations, the first with Amnesty’s Crisis Response Team and the second with Glasgow-based designers Rectangle, the talk will outline two experimental ways in which Airwars’ archive is being mobilised to reframe civilian deaths.

Sophie Dyer
As a senior researcher at Airwars, Sophie’s advocacy work focuses on the reconciliation of the civilian casualty database with belligerent reporting, via direct engagement, analysis and modelling, including geolocation. She worked on the redesign of Airwars archive and is currently on secondment to Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Team. Sophie studied at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, and has a background in Visual Communication. Prior to Airwars, she worked as a freelancer with Forensic Architecture amongst others.

Matthew Ford, University of Sussex and

Andrew Hoskins, University of Glasgow

Ambiguous War

The digital dissolution of the established relationships between elite actors (militaries, governments, news media) and the altitude of audiences, victims, bystanders, implode the battlefield. War fought on these terms seems newly ambiguous, messing with the traditional parameters of borders and states, time and place, actions and effects, certainty and uncertainty, legitimacy and illegitimacy, truth and fiction, memory and history. 

In this presentation, we offer a new holistic lens on these developments and on the future of war through an overview of our new DAC model of ambiguous warfare:

1.    Data: digitization of battle and intense connectivity overwhelms (too much information/bandwidth) with multiple, simultaneous, messy and weaponised data trajectories, new human-machine configurations of combat, and accidental archives. This creates an:

2.    Attention disorder: with confusion over a grey ecology of command/control, the voracity and effect of images in a post-trust environment, and new kinds of combat/cognitive loads. This both enables and requires new forms of:

3.    Control: new techniques developed for controlling the civilian/soldier experience of battle and for the archival fight (mining and ownership) over memory, history and how wars are used as ‘lessons’ and for (de)legitimising current/future strategy. At the same time, artistic and citizen interventions offer new resilience and the reframing of human/legal rights.

Matthew Ford is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex and former West Point Fellow. He has written extensively about military-technical change, especially as it relates to the infantry and their experience of battle. He is an Honorary Historical Consultant to the Royal Armouries, Leeds, UK and author of Weapon of Choice (Hurst & Co, London and Oxford University Press in New York). @warmatters

Andrew Hoskins is Interdisciplinary Research Professor in Global Security at the University of Glasgow. He is Founding Co-Editor in Chief of the Journal of Digital War and Founding Editor in Chief of the Journal of Memory Studies. His latest books are (ed) Digital Memory Studies (Routledge 2018); (co-ed) Trump’s Media War (Palgrave 2019), and Risk & Hyperconnectivity: Media and Memories of Neoliberalism (with John Tulloch, OUP 2016). @andrewhoskins