The Steorn Exploit and its Spin Doktors, or “Synergie ist der name of das Spiel, my boy!”


This essay considers one of the more intriguing techno-events of this decade: the claim of the Irish technology company Steorn to have produced a perpetual motion device, the Orbo. Although its promised demo in July 2007 failed to produce a working device, events leading up to and beyond the failed demo offer a case study in what Galloway and Thacker define as an “exploit,” “a resonant flaw designed to resist, threaten, and ultimately desert the dominant political diagram.” Selecting its own jury to test and validate the Orbo, the company has resisted the normal scientific validation process. Enlisting the aid of an “outernet” workforce, Steorn has challenged traditional business models as well. Unfortunately, Orbo's failure has put a reverse spin on the Steorn Exploit and its viral marketing campaign, demonstrating that viruses not only spread but also mutate. Embarking on its own exploit, Steorn's on-line forum has morphed into a Webmind whose emergent properties recall Goertzel's psynet, “a self-organizing network of information-carrying agents.” “Mobile agents,” forum members create new links and provide each other feedback as they sort through the multiple drafts of Steorn's narrative. Scripted into this narrative, they must also do battle with other counter-exploitive elements such as Herr Doktor Mabuse, a nightmarish perversion of Steorn's original vision. Whether or not the forum endures depends paradoxically on the very spirit of contestation that drives its-and Steorn's-operations.