Here’s a fun new computer game: It’s called "Can you spot the Predator drone?" Anyone with an Internet connection can play.
That wasn’t necessarily Josh Begley’s intention when he began mapping all of the United States’ military bases for his latest data visualization project, Empire.is. But as he gathered data from the Department of Defense’s 2013 Base Structure report and started plugging in the locations to Google Maps and Bing, he began to appreciate different angles of satellite imagery—especially where covert and overt warfare intersect.
Take, for example the U.S. military base in Incirlik, Turkey. In Google’s version, it looks like a regular airbase. On Bing, there are Predator drones on the runway.
Drones stoke our technophobic imaginations, and with good reason, considering their human impact. But Begley’s project is less an indictment of the technology, and more an open question: What does our military footprint look like?
"I have found myself talking about drones a fair amount the last year or so, and they have kind of become a receptacle for a lot of our anxieties about technology," Begley says. "But at the same time, every drone has to take off from somewhere. So where is it? And what does the built environment say about them?"
Begley’s separate drone project, an app called Drone+, is on hold for the time being. Apple has rejected the project at least five times, but Begley keeps redesigning the drone push notification tool, hoping one day the company will relent. It doesn’t look promising.
In the meantime, Begley’s inbox is flush with comments and suggestions for Empire.is. On Friday, he received 16 emails from those who had seen military bases in person, but not on the map.
"I’ve been hearing from a number of people who are like, ‘Hey, I was stationed here from ‘98 to 2001, and it’s not on the map,’" Begley says. "The fact that it’s being crowdsourced is interesting to me."
Begley isn’t the only one who’s interested. He was inspired by the work of Trevor Paglen, an artist who took pictures of secret military outposts for his book Blank Spots on the Map. British artist Mishka Henner has also presented the blotchy, hack jobs of governments trying to obfuscate military bases as a cross between realist and absurdist art.
It’s useful information, too. With the Department of Defense’s budget ballooning to more than $600 billion in 2014, it’ll be interesting to see how our military apparatus shifts its grip on the map.