Some of the world’s greatest artworks are known for their elaborate backstory or complex history, but not many are actively dangerous to those who own them. ‘The Persistence of Chaos’ might be an exception. Created by internet artist Guo O Dong, this piece of art is an ordinary laptop filled with six of the world’s most dangerous pieces of malware. It’s perfectly safe — as long you don’t connect to your Wi-Fi or plug in a USB.
Speaking to The Verge, artist Guo O Dong says the intention behind the laptop was to make physical the abstract threats posed by the digital world.
“We have this fantasy that things that happen in computers can’t actually affect us, but this is absurd,” says Guo. “Weaponized viruses that affect power grids or public infrastructure can cause direct harm.”
The six viruses in the laptop (a 10.2-inch Samsung NC10-14GB) were chosen for the magnitude of economic damage they’ve caused. They include the ILOVEYOU virus, a computer bug from 2000 that often appeared as a “love letter” attached to emails; and WannaCry, a ransomware attack that shut down computers in hospitals and factories around the world in 2017, and which intelligence agencies blamed on North Korea.
Guo says WannaCry is the perfect example of how digital attacks have physical harm. “WannaCry ... caused the [UK’s National Health Service] the equivalent of $100 million in damages and led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of doctors’ appointments,” he says. “It is not a leap to say this caused significant human harm, though it might be hard to pinpoint the effects exactly down to the patient.”
These are far from historical concerns — right now, a ransomware attack is ravaging the city of Baltimore for example. In total, Guo estimates that the six viruses caused economic damage worth $95 billion.
The piece was commissioned by cybersecurity firm DeepInstinct, and is currently being auctioned off. You can watch a live stream of the laptop to make sure it doesn’t make any sudden moves, and keep an eye on the rising price, currently at $1.2 million. That may seem like a lot to pay for an old laptop riddle with malware, but Guo says he likes to think of the piece as “a kind of bestiary — a catalogue of historical threats.”
Next time you have to fix a relation’s computer and it turns up in a similar state, try telling yourself the same thing: “Ah, what a wonderful bestiary of historical threats!”