Automating violence? The anti-politics of ‘smart technology’ in biodiversity conservation
Parris-Piper, Naomi; Dressler, Wolfram H.; Satizábal, Paula; Fletcher, Robert
This article examines the politics of emerging partnerships among big-tech corporations, big international non-governmental organisations (BINGOs) and bilaterals that promote the uptake and implementation of ‘smart technologies’ in biodiversity conservation. Despite growing global recognition of Indigenous and local peoples' rights to forests, lands, and oceans as central to socially just and successful conservation, new initiatives to conserve 30% of the Earth's territory by 2030 (‘30 × 30’) under the United Nations' (UN) post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework largely continue to neglect their existing customary rights and uses of biodiverse territories. The consequences of this have become evident in new global conservation partnerships that are taking a ‘technological turn’. ‘Smart technologies’ that rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and complex hardware, such as camera traps, drones, and smartphones, enable new forms of surveillance and securitisation through and beyond conventional conservation practices. Despite their potential to exacerbate social injustices against historically marginalised groups, the situated character of smart technology impacts and outcomes often remain unquestioned by mainstream conservation actors. Our paper shows how the dominant discourses framing such technology as successful and innovative across global and local partnerships belies its potential to: 1) inflict considerable violence upon local and Indigenous peoples; and 2) neglect the main political economic drivers of biodiversity loss. Drawing on examples from Palawan Island, the Philippines, we show how these global-local governance partnerships have valorised the potential success of smart technology for biodiversity conservation in situ without considering how they may adversely impact Indigenous and local peoples' rights and livelihoods, while at the same time neglecting and depoliticising the violence of capitalist extractivist expansion.