July 16, 2014

Poster searching for a lost radio-controlled helicopter.

Copyright 2014 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Someone appears to have lost a radio-controlled helicopter, and I immediately wondered if this was going to be the 21st century version of the posting for lost dogs/cats/pets of some kind. (NOTE:  The phone number has been covered to respect the privacy of the owner.)

It also triggered a free-association of the larger issues regarding drones in our civilian airspace and those machines used in war.  The rapid escalation of the private use of drones has both spurred on new photography competitions , created new opportunities for photographic lighting, and generated concerns over the future of privacy.   When individuals feel their privacy is compromised, there are a number of potential responses as per this article.  Perhaps not surprisingly given the nature of our culture, the idea of shooting down the drones is mentioned.

Which is the segue into the use of drones in war.  This, too, is a highly controversial issue as discussed in many forums.  A number of years ago, P.W. Singer wrote a book entitled Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, which examines the technology and culture of modern warfare. (Ironically, that link is to Amazon.com, which generated news when owner Jeff Bezos announced plans to use drones for same-day delivery of some products.) Mr. Singer discusses the advantages of the use of robots, and drones would have to be considered a species of robots, in that they are better able to handle missions involving the “3 Ds” of combat:  missions that are too dull, that is they require long spans of monotonous activity, or inactivity as it were, long-term surveillance would be an example; missions that are too dirty, slogging through mud of the Pacific Campaign during WW II or dealing with the sandstorms of the Middle East and Northern Africa during both WW II and the present wars in that part of the world (as an aside, the concept of a “dirty war” also has another context); and missions that are too dangerous-the very nature of war is an example of that final point. (This description is on page 63 of the hardback edition.)

The use of robotics for combat also raises the possibility that for those who have the technology to make war in this manner, the act of war will become sanitized, and with that there would be the risk of having no real incentive to stop it.  Please note that I am not recommending that humans should continue fighting.  I am suggesting that the horrors of war are one of the real incentives to find other means to settle differences and not let them reach that point-consider Syria for a moment.  The original Star Trek series of the 1960s, which was on television in the United States during the early stages of our war in Viet Nam, had an episode entitled “A Taste of Armageddon,” and it is well worth a watch as it makes these precise points.  In fact, Captain Kirk’s final confrontation with Anan 7 is where he articulates that war has become so clinical in nature that this society has found no incentive to end the conflict.  Looking back, I am sure I did not understand this issue when watching the show as a child.  It absolutely makes sense to me now.

Finding alternatives to war as a problem-solver appears to be quite difficult as what seems reasonable to some is considered oppressive to others.  There is also an over-abundance of weapons available.  As a species we have not as yet figured out a global sense of “fairness” that is applicable across all cultures.  One thing is certain though:  warfare is an engine that drives technology and sometimes there is a delay in the time it takes societies to catch-up as said technology often outpaces societal norms-this is referred to as “culture lag” in sociology.  Having a radio-controlled helicopter fly beyond the control of its user and be lost is just a metaphor for these much larger issues.

Take care.

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