Recycling a carnival game wheel in this inventive sculpture, Brian Dailey literally and figuratively toys with the concept and consequences of game theory in shaping foreign and military policy. As the rickety wooden wheel pivots around the atomic symbol at its central axis, we can only look on anxiously and wonder about the doomed fate of humanity at the mercy of such unstable and indiscriminant “games.”
While this modeling system is placed within the larger picture of nuclear planning in Dailey’s Game Theory, the artist highlights and sardonically comments on an extreme example of such use of game theory modeling developed during the Cold War. With this vivid contraption, Dailey specifically takes aim at a very real and dangerous Soviet game theory model called the Correlation of Forces (CofF), which used computer modeling to analyze geopolitical, socio-economic, technological, and ideological trends in the world, particularly in relation to U.S.-Soviet competition. Among the programs the Soviet’s CofF model generated and justified was a fail-deadly deterrence scenario called Dead Hand. Spontaneously triggered by sensors programmed to detect seismic, light, radioactivity and overpressure, this Dr. Strangelove scheme insured an automatic retaliatory strike in the event Soviet leadership and command and controls system did not survive a U.S. nuclear strike. The Dead Hand computerized doomsday mechanism is reportedly still operational today.
The artist’s serendipitous discovery of a vintage game wheel inspired this provocative sculpture, which graphically invokes the same random, absurd, and potentially catastrophic ideas arbitrarily put into play in game theory models of conflict and cooperation. As Dailey himself discovered during his tenure as an arms control and national security advisor, the scenarios he scripted on the face of the wheel for an accidental or crisis triggering of a nuclear Armageddon are all too real and far too close for comfort.