Playing through the Future – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Playing through the Future

Fisher Center Lecturer Discusses Everyday Nanowars

Building on the year’s theme of animation Colin Milburn, assistant professor of English at the University of California, discussed the important intersection and interaction between current nanotechnology, the military, video games and day-to-day life during the second Fisher Center lecture of the year. Milburn explained as, “…the extent to which nanowar military technology is encroaching into our everyday, lived daily lives that seem invisible but are becoming more and more ubiquitous.”

Pointing out a video series produced by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, a collaboration between MIT and the Army Office Research, Milburn said that the series, “…explained the advantage, in deed, the necessity of increasing the survivability of American soldiers with the new molecular nanotechnologies.”

The series, collectively titled Soldier of the Future, is intended to explain nanotechnology as a science, engineering devices and materials on a molecular scale and also to show how the face of warfare will be forever changed by the introduction of these new invisible technologies.

Showing  leading PR material and quoting recent publications related to nanotechnology and its militarization, Milburn showed how the age of nanotechnology  is already coming into being.

Outlining many claims that these forecasts affect a revolution in industry, Milburn said, “In claims like these the intricate forces of historical and global change are replaced with a technological determinism that imagines a single technological advancement into the trigger of cataclysmic world change.”

“The only sensible response to any such technology is to act as if it had already changed the world, even before it had,” Milburn continued. “Given that we can make animation of what was, according to the ISN, unimaginable just a few years ago, that very possibility for the future becomes a reality of the present, something that we must engage with today.”

This blending and blurring of the future and the present, the digital and the virtual, the game and the war are clear, for Milburn, in over three dozen video games which relate, directly or indirectly, to nanotechnology and nanowarfare. “We now have embodied engagement because the video games are action, an embodied event.”

After explicating how these concepts play out and are fleshed out in three different video games – Nano Breaker, Crysis and Metal Gear Solid IV – Milburn closed his lecture by saying, “Although these games typically leave the tensions [between the logic of nanotechnology and the actual scientific research] animated here in an unresolved crisis mode, an unresolved suspension of gender values and epistemic positions, they also, in so doing, help us to think through or play through other possibilities and other ways of seeing the future.”

With questions ranging from the impact of nanotechnology in video games on sexuality in the military to the ethical responsibility of game designers, Milburn left his audience with a whole new way of thinking about our present and our possible futures.

“His lecture was extremely interesting,” said Caitlyn Schrader ’10. “Listening to his thought process on how technology can be incorporated into our lives without us noticing was fascinating.”

“The presentation was a great precursor to a discussion about the self, the body and the soul and their relation to the this possible future, a discussion between Professor Milburn and our faculty and students-it was incredibly interesting,” said Kevin Curtin ’10.

“The lecture was superb,” said 2008-2009 Fisher Center Pre-Doctoral Fellow Jillian Burcar. “He spoke directly to our theme of animation, something that I’ve been talking about in class regarding what constitutes a human or a monster, featured here in the nano-warrior.”

Milburn holds one Ph.D. in the history of science and a second in English from the University of California, Davis. His recent works include “Nanovision: Engineering the Future,” a forthcoming book “Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter” and the articles “Science from Hell: Jack the Ripper and Victorian Vivisection,” Nano/Splatter: Disintegrating the Postbiological Body,” “Syphilis in Faerie Land: Edmund Spenser and the Syphilography of Elizabethan England” and “Monsters in Eden: Darwin and Derrida.”

At the lecture, Bayer announced the 2008-2009 Fisher Center Student Repesentatives, which are Roger Arnold ’10 and Anna Hewat ’11; They joined this year’s Fisher Center Steering Committee.