Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or Drones) to the rest of us, are something that we all kind of know is growing (8.5% of US Air Force as of this article) but somehow we think that we won’t be around when the sky is darkened by them or our next airline flight is done with no one up front. For now we’ve accepted that they handle most surveillance and virtually all of the dark stuff that the military might want to try without putting an actual person in harm’s way. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are relevant since they highlight just how integrated our lives are becoming with automation, technology and the omnipresence of the eye in the sky.
The best quote that highlights their penetration into our collective awareness might be from this article, “In many ways, UAVs are a bit like computers. First they were rare and then they were everywhere.” It happened quickly. And like computer revolution, the world has fallen into two camps – the pro-UAV and and the anti-UAV crowd. The anti crowd has plenty of normal and understandable reactions. Less privacy, more delivery systems for things we arguably don’t need, etc. etc. But I’ll argue you might as well be at least neutral and here’s why: They are here to stay and like computers, their applications will be both evil and wonderful, but you might as well look at net benefit they bring and the inevitability of them just being an extension of who we are as people and societies.
We survived nuclear weapons and computers together, so far, so why not give a little creedence to the theory that we should be able to manage UAVs. A recent post on this blog about staying relevant mentioned UAVs for the simple reason that they challenge the relevance of pilots in the traditional sense, and nothing bothers pilots more than being made irrelevant. Computers challenged our relevance since they did the work for us. But the part of society that is pushing to get stuff done is always looking for tools to help get stuff done faster and better. Imagine the human calculator cursing the arrival of the abacus, “They’re takin’ er jobs!” Yep, and that’s a good thing, since there’s plenty else to do.
The Real Reason To Care
The increasing miniaturization of technology, be it processing power or cameras, leads to the inevitable – someone, if not you, is going to make tons of these things and find lots of applications for them. Whether it is a farmer or rancher just having more information about what is going on or being able to assess flood damage quickly in an emergency (without the use of an expensive and maintenance hungry helicopter) you have to admit there is elegance to our hand held friends being launched into the sky.
Take a page from the evolution of computers – it really didn’t do anyone any good to condemn them and try to legislate their banishment for reasons of them being dark agents of change. In the end, generations of people later, computers are something we can’t live with out, and internet access is akin to water and electricity. It is hard to be a part of modern society without some internet access. That’s where stuff is happening.
With UAVs the vertical is simpler and smaller, but passions run high. And that emotional trigger seen in so many only attests to the massive role these things will play in our lives only because the reaction at the dawn of their impact is so high.