In collaboration with Rupert, Vilnius, Lithuania and their program: Post-Pandemic Futures
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.
We have conducted three etchings to make PCBs that follow other lines of inquiry.
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:
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.
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?
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.