“Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.” ― Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (1970)
To say that the rise of domestic drones will change the world as we know it may be the understatement of the 2010s. Without even considering how military UAVs have and will continue to change the face of warfare, we can say with confidence that domestic drones will be to this decade what the Internet represented to the 2000s – a watershed moment.
Technological breakthroughs like human-produced fire, personal computers, moveable- type print, and the Internet fundamentally altered who we are as a species by changing how we live alongside our fellow humans and our environment. Einstein’s oft-quoted maxim, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them,” demonstrates how we must innovate in order to survive and thrive as Homo sapiens. Do drones represent a new “level of thinking?” How will drones fit into this jigsaw puzzle that is human global culture?
O Philosopher Where Art Thou?
Modern philosophers have yet to scratch the surface in examining the societal shift as domestic drones integrate into everyday life. Indeed, dissecting the ethics and morality of drone warfare seems to occupy the time of most sociologists and philosophy experts rather than researching its domestic cousin. For many doom-and-gloom academics, drones are destined to wreck havoc on society either as a means of destruction or widespread crime.
And yet, the UAV sector is clearly poised to be a paradigm-shifting game changer for the good of humankind. We only need to look at a typical barometer of optimism – Silicon Valley. Drone startups have taken the venture-capital world by storm. In fact, market intelligence expert Marcelo Ballve believes the commercial drone industry will far outpace the growth of the military sector. Ballve thinks the drone industry will generating $2.3 billion in U.S. investment in 2016.
And while mainstream media focuses on how drones will disrupt consumer logistics (hello, Amazon) and the FAA’s love-hate relationship with the UAV community, the Drone Revolution is quietly changing the world in such diverse areas as wildlife management, agriculture, environmental research, natural-disaster relief and socially relevant, investigative journalism. Drones are incrementally finding their way in the world right under the noses of social scientists.
Privacy’s Loss or Accountability’s Gain?
While it’s true that a sky filled with GoPro-toting quadcopters will inevitably create some privacy problems, there is every reason to think that the Drone Revolution will instead shine a light on hidden societal ills rather than trying to uncover the color and brand of thy neighbor’s new undies.
Look — every past technological advance has arrived with harmful and unintended consequences. The film camera allowed the infamous Peeping Tom a way to capture his illicit snooping for posterity; the audio recorder has been used countless times to find out who one’s roommate is cheating with or being cheated upon; and the less said about sex tapes, the better.
As Brendan Schulman (aka The Drone Lawyer) so brilliantly made clear in a recent interview: “If the concern is physical intrusion or inappropriate photographs, state law governing offenses such as trespass, stalking, peeping or unlawful surveillance … apply.” In short, drones may allow more people easier ways to violate our privacy but there’s no reason to think current laws can’t take care of these aerial ne’er-do-wells. For every drone that may accidentally fly into a clothing-optional gaffe, there are several more drones in the field that are bringing attention to people in need.
“Drones can reach places and see things cell phones cannot,” writes Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Mark Hanis in a 2012 New York Times editorial. “Social media did not document the worst of the genocide in the remote villages of Darfur in 2003 and 2004,” they added.
“We could record the repression in Syria with unprecedented precision and scope. The better the evidence, the clearer the crimes, the higher the likelihood that the world would become as outraged as it should be…. Graphic and detailed evidence of crimes against humanity does not guarantee a just response, but it helps. If human rights organizations can spy on evil, they should.”
Make no mistake – drones (private and governmental) have been used and will continue to be used to unjustly violate someone’s privacy. And, as Schulman points out, we have laws on the books to handle such violations.
On the other hand, the rise of technology that can watch us in public will likely (hopefully?) make us think twice and act in a more transparent manner. With the nascent rise of social media, smartphone cams and videographic drones, we as a society will have new ways to shine the light of accountability on those who would do violence, bully, commit social injustice or just plain act like assholes in the public arena.
Drones will be the aerial vanguard of the New Transparency, flying into a world described by David Brin in The Transparent Society:
“With the coming of a wired, global society [including drones], the concept of openness has never been more important. It’s the linchpin that will make the new world work — in a nutshell, the key formula for the coming age is this: Open, good. Closed, bad. Tattoo it on your forehead. Apply it to technology standards, to business strategies, to philosophies of life. It’s the winning concept for individuals, for nations, for the global community in the years ahead.”
Where there are drones, there is transparency.
Know Me, Know My Drone
When the phrase “selfie drone” entered our collective vocabulary, the snorting, self-righteous pundits went into full-scale Indignation Mode. “See! We told you this generation is just plain selfish and narcissistic! Those danged smartphone cameras ain’t enough – now them meddling kids have got drones following them!”
Yes, selfie drones will create a new paradigm of self image. We’ll see ourselves from many different angles. How we walk. How our body language morphs with each new social interaction. In short, we’ll see an honest image of how the world sees us.
Dov Seidman writes in Forbes that technologies like selfie drones, which allow us to present an authentic image of ourselves across social media, may be a “healthy form of narcissism.”
“We need to thoughtfully participate in the interconnected world—and social media platforms and tools, used correctly, are an incredibly effective way to do so. But these tools only work if we use them as intended. This requires some narcissism, the self-regard necessary to express our authentic selves,” he said. And with more drones equipped with high-res cameras like the GoPro, authenticity never looked so crisp.
What Skies May Come?
Readers of DRONELIFE know the score – the forecast for drone industry growth is staggering. We all read the same numbers. The commercial drone industry is expected to exceed $89 billion in sales over the next 10 years – hundreds of thousands of jobs may be created. Barring any “Black Swan” events, watching quadcopters buzz through city streets will be as mundane to our children as iPhones are to most of us.
While sociology and philosophy academics have yet to produce any substantial studies or in-depth publications about the effect of drones on the human condition, it’s clear that our emerging UAV systems will “change everything” and we humans will adapt – that’s what humans do.
We will make this amazing new technology accomplish wonderful tasks. Yes, there will be hiccups. There will be idiotic, media-frenzied crashes. There will be narcotics-trafficking drone mules on our borders. And, despite any harm that drones may cause our society, the benefits will far outweigh the risks – not just the quadcopter-delivered burrito waiting at your front door.
Picture a sick child in a remote Third World village, receiving a life-saving vaccine from a medical drone. Envision the look of pure joy as a mother sees her lost baby through the lens of a SAR quad. Watch farmers quadruple their output using drone mapping data. Humans evolved from tree-dwelling hominids as we expanded over the savannah, into the mountains and across the oceans. What is our next stage of evolution? The answer may just be found in the drone-filled skies.