Liam Young, 24 11 10


From the department of intangible technologies in the Architectural Association’s Unknown Fields Division 09/10 studio run by Liam Young and Kate Davies comes Scatterbrain Iceland by Jack Self. This is the first in a series of posts documenting the ongoing work of the division.

Scatterbrain Iceland is an architectural novella that proposes, through a narrative format, the construction of the Internet as an artefact, as a supercomputer server-farm. This is an excerpt:

“A crest of purple reflection wavered along the length of Songling’s bodysuit as her arm described the perfect parabola required to deliver the grenade to its target. As her hand attained the apogee of its circuit her front foot sunk into the spongy bundles of fibre-optics, which splayed under her shifting weight. Beneath her boots the crystal canopy quivered and flexed, and beneath that the halos of solid-state drives chimed like miniature bells in an informatic cathedral. The grenade now twisted along its arc, moving silently through the hibernal gloom across the fantastic billow of blue and red LEDs, across the floating sea of rhythmically pulsing information.

Fifty yards away the ventilation shutters of a server tower chattered and clicked, broadcasting thermal semaphore to electric storm clouds. A square hole in the curving basalt façade marked the liminal space leading to an open service hatch. As the grenade cleared the threshold of this short tunnel two yellow-suited figures appeared, Guardians of the Cloud. They each held a cordless neon tube powered by the immense electromagnetic field of the thousands of servers that filled the tower. The Guardian closest to the doorway also held a weapon, the barrel of which was already rising as he came into view. The vectors of these bodies – the grenade and the Guardian – shared an interstice both in time and space. Bouncing off the Guardian’s shoulder, the grenade would continue a new trajectory past the lift head, down the central column of the tower. It would pass eighty storeys of concentric server cores and detonate – immediately the ventilation shutters would snap closed, disrupting the chimney-effect that regulated the Web’s temperature. The immense heat generated by the computers would build up under the stack. Very soon the whole tower would combust, quickly setting fire to its neighbours.

But Songling would not live to see this. The fulcrum of the two bodies was precisely the same moment that the Guardian’s trigger-finger achieved critical pressure. The force of the bullet striking Songling’s shoulder caused her to turn as she fell, revealing a spinning panorama of towers, a landscape of computational infrastructure that extended out beyond the geothermal reactors to the limits of the valley. This was the New Internet, a machine that did much more than simply recollect the virtual lives of humanity. It inter-compared, analysed, synthesised, and generated abstractions. It constructed elaborate logical underpinnings and formulated its own languages to test the structure and consistency of our world. It had become an organism.

It produced idiosyncratically inconsistent and unpredictable opinions, like its creators. But what only Songling seemed to comprehend was that the Internet would not accept this grossly parasitic relationship with its parents for much longer.

For obvious reasons, the Web could not be allowed to survive.”


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