Digital Ecologies is a free, interdisciplinary, two-day workshop taking place at the University of Cambridge on 29-30 March 2021.
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Digital Ecologies of the Smart Mine
Dr. Lily House-Peters (California State University), Dr. Katherine Sammler (Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity)
ABSTRACT: As natural resource extraction moves into increasingly remote frontiers, rapidly evolving constellations of sensing systems and autonomous robots are being deployed in nascent smart mines to create digitally-mediated hyper-extraction landscapes. We argue this robotic revolution in the mining and mineral extraction industry is producing new digital ecologies, both on land and off-shore. The digitization of the Earth’s lithosphere at once serves to physically distance the miner from the mine, while simultaneously producing novel relations between humans and more-than-human matter via granular, multi-spectral, and richly textured information that streams from the mines. Thus, the mine is reconceived as a double treasure trove, where the seams of the earth are both ore and data rich. We aim to reveal the black-box relations of these digital encounters to theoretically interrogate emerging relations of abstraction, mediation, transmission, and the signal/noise dichotomy of technologically mediated, more-than-human networks. This research investigates two iron-rich sites targeted for robotic extraction — the sandy seafloors off New Zealand and the Pilbara of Western Australia — to understand the shifting affective, material, and discursive practices of extraction. Our analysis draws on theory from critical geography, new materialism, and media studies to explore these digitally sensed and augmented environments. The comparative findings across subaqueous and subterranean mediums illuminate the multiplicity and specificity of the human and more-than-human milieu in each site.