In collaboration with Rupert, Vilnius, Lithuania and their program: Post-Pandemic Futures

A PCB board with the word MELT etched on it. Attached to it is a battery and a green LED. A white person is holding the board.
A PCB board up close is illuminated from behind. The world MELT and a fire emoji are etched into it.

Computation is perceived to be binary and immaterial. Zeros and Ones are often presented as the undeniable, immaterial grounding logic of computing. We are troubling this conception by drawing attention to the material processes that computation involves such as etching with acid, dissolving copper, and soldering with flux. Bits are subject to the queering effects of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays cause trouble with electronics: as high energy (often hydrogen) atomic nuclei, they escape the systems of collapsing supernova stars and speed through space at the speed of light. Entering the atmosphere of Earth, cosmic rays interfere with the binary state of bits and thus mess with memory and processing. All sorts of tech devices and systems have been disruped from cosmic rays including: the computerised elections in Brussels (2003), cars (2009), computers (daily) and melting cellphones (2017). From this, we assume that the universe is not okay with binary logic (and other oppressive forces). We have sensed this cue and are pursuing non-binary ways towards otherwise computational futures. This work is a series of etched speculative experiments working towards joining the universe in celebrating post binary computation.

Three etchings towards non binary computing

We have conducted three etchings to make PCBs that follow other lines of inquiry.

Inside out green-blue liquid are three PCB boards floating on top of each other.
Inside of a plastic basin, a green-blue liquid has three PCB boards floating inside of it.
Detail shot of PCB boards in green-blue etching liquid.
Detail shot of PCB boards in green-blue liquid in basin with a reflection making the image blurry.

Soft error:

A soft error is an error that doesn't imply that anything is wrong or unreliable about the system the error occurs in. In this sense, the error is seen as outside of human influence. For example, cosmic ray induced errors are common, expected and considered "soft". A soft error can change memory or processing but does not change how the circuit is constructed. Soft errors are already working towards non binary computing:

  • as they happen because of cosmic interference, which is something humans have little control over and understanding of.
  • they read as errors to humans, because the system that humans have designed makes it only possible to read them as erroneous.
  • as these differences are only registered as error, not as potentials.
  • PCB board in different lighting conditions. On the board is the word SOFT. It flashes differently depending on the light conditions.
    PCB board with the word MELT and fire emoji etched into it. Attached to the board is a resistor, a 9 volt battery, and a green LED.
    Low light image of PCB boards before etching. In black marker the word SOFT is written on one PCB board in the foreground. In the background is another PCB with squiggles drawn on it.
    Etched PCB board in purple light. On the PCB is the word SOFT and many dots.

    Non Binary Tree:

    The non binary tree draws its shapes from the particle tracks of cosmic rays. The particle tracks can be made visible within cosmic ray cloud chambers. Other than binary trees, that usually split into twos or multiples of twos, the non binary tree has no definite shape. Within a super nova, particles gain so much energy that they finally escape the system and become cosmic rays, and as such travel through the universe and meet the Earth in random patterns. Transforming again as they intract with the atmosphere of the earth, the cosmic rays become a 'cosmic ray cascade' as they split into eletromagnetic, hadronic and mesonic components that have shifting, unstable and multiple fractures. Reading the cosmic ray cascade as a non binary tree for computation makes possible to account for unstable and multitemporal realities.

    On a copper plate is a negative image of a cosmic ray shower, or non binary tree. We digitally deleted the etched parts from the image.
    On the left side is a PCB board in perspective like on a table. The copper strokes and etched plastics are mostly brown.
    A PCB board has been etched. Three snake like squiggles inside a circle have each a hole at the end of them.

    Bending Sensors:

    Using sensors that change currents due to touch and gradients of interaction involve more circuits than electromagnetic ones. Rather than 'on/off' switches, these sensors propose ways of interaction that make perceptible the always already present socio-technical assemblages between humans, other materials, their senses and sensing practices. When bending definitions, we ask, how do we bend/squish/touch and transform what computation is 'supposed' to be?

    A white person's hand bends a flexible sensor that is attached to a PCB board with sqiggles on it. Also attached are two wires, and an LED light that is lit up in red.
    A PCB board with squiggles on it has four elements attached: One LED light, one long sensor, and two wires.
    A PCB board is in the middle of the image. Attached to it are four wires that extend to a white person holding a light sensor. Also attached are two clips holding a battery and a red LED.
    A white person's hand is playing with a light sensor that is attached to a PCB. When the light sensor is facing flight, an LED lights up.
    A red and white braided wire loops across the image attaching to a PCB board. On the PCB board is a white LED light and two other wires.
    A red and white braided wire loops across the image. It is attached to a PCB board which also has a white LED and two other wires attached to it. Coming from the left side of the image is a sensor sneaking in from the edge of the image.

    These etched experiments play with ways of sensing the spectrum of signals that cosmic rays and the universe are sending towards the Earth. In this work we failed a lot in making PCBs that sense non-binary computation: In this failure to make pcb boards that were etched well and had stable soldered connections, we found that by understanding the material queerness of the universe's cosmic rays, that non-binary perspectives in computing were always already there.

    6 PCB boards lay on a surface. They appear silvery and in different stages of being etched. They display different shapes, squiggles and words.