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SYFY WIRE Dystopia

Not just for airplanes: This 'black box' waits for the whole planet to crash

For some reason, we just lost the mood to start belting out "Auld Lang Syne."

By Benjamin Bullard
Earth's Black Box PRESS

Welp, there’s no time like the flip of the annual calendar to begin thinking about the end of the world…at least, not for the people who are envisioning a new observation project aimed at documenting civilization’s apparent decline.

Taking a cue from the aviation industry’s reliance on onboard recording devices to unravel the mysteries of an airplane’s ill-fated flight, an Australian team is planning to construct its own “black box” — only this one’s meant to log nothing less than the total demise of Planet Earth.

The University of Tasmania — along with art collective the Glue Society and communications company Clemenger BBDO — is teasing plans for an ominous-sounding repository of depressingly fatalistic data that it’s calling “Earth’s Black Box.” Early renderings of the rust-colored slab feature a giant, angular object meant to be planted in the Australian desert and kitted out with all kinds of tech-y bits that scan for all the terrible, no-good stuff that could lead the planet toward an apocalyptic crash.

What kind of stuff will a black box devoted to tracking Earth’s final sigh keep track of? It’s a curated selection of info for sure: In addition to “contextual data such as newspaper headlines, social media posts, and news from key events like Conference of the Parties (COP) climate change meetings,” according to ABC News Australia, its well-protected hard drives will also bank up “measurements of land and sea temperatures, ocean acidification, atmospheric CO2, species extinction, land-use changes,” and demographic data “like human population, military spending, and energy consumption.”

If taking a gloomy, doom-y peek ahead to Earth’s end times feels like like something of a New Year’s party pooper, well, that’s kinda the mood the team is going for. Earth’s Black Box feels like as much of a cautionary statement as it is a future-serving scientific endeavor, as the project’s online greeting suggests: “Unless we dramatically transform our way of life, climate change and other man-made perils will cause our civilization to crash,” its website states. “…One thing is certain, your actions, inaction, and interactions are now being recorded.”

Still, they’re definitely going all out to make sure this black box can withstand whatever we humans might throw at it. Construction is set to begin in 2022, and once it’s complete, the box will be the only unnatural object anywhere in sight in its desert environment (kinda like Stanley Kubrick’s iconic black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey). It’ll definitely be hard to miss: At 10 meters long, 4 meters high, and 3 meters wide, the box will be about the size of a box car and clad by three inches of solid steel — all the better, of course, to protect all that vital data that some future super-sleuth might eventually want to piece together to figure out where things went so apocalyptically wrong.

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