Tiny drones are going to invade your privacy and rock your world a lot sooner than you think. Watch this Lockheed Martin video for an early look at the new age of drones. (via Talking Points Memo IdeasLab):
Once you get over the sheer inventiveness of the people behind these things—from the engineering which brilliantly mimics nature’s best designs, to the clever synchronization of the camera’s shutter with the rotation of the wing to give the pilot a steady video feed—the hazy outlines of what this all means for humanity starts coming into focus. As Francis Fukuyama put it in the Financial Times earlier this year:
What will the world look like when not just the US but many other countries around the world operate fleets of drones; and when powerful, sophisticated drones are owned by lots of private individuals? What would our attitude be if our enemies could pick off visiting dignitaries as they stepped off the aeroplane in a supposedly friendly country, or attack soldiers in their bases in Europe or Asia? Or if Americans became vulnerable in Florida or New York? Drones might become an inexpensive delivery vehicle for terrorists or rogue states that can’t afford to deliver payloads in ballistic missiles. Some of the remotely controlled aeroplanes that hobbyists build are a third to half the size of their full-scale counterparts. As the technology becomes cheaper and more commercially available, moreover, drones may become harder to trace; without knowing their provenance, deterrence breaks down. A world in which people can be routinely and anonymously targeted by unseen enemies is not pleasant to contemplate.
And these things are getting smaller and smaller at a faster and faster rate. The Lockheed Martin group has gotten their prototypes down to six inches already. When you consider that nature has come up with miniaturized complex organisms that are smaller than single cell amoebas, the idea of fully functional nanobots stops seeming like some science fiction fantasy of a distant future. It’s likely that these little critters will have a lot of uses and make our lives better in unexpected ways, but it’s also clear that the boundaries between public and private are going to shift when governments, employers, news organizations, social media sites and anybody else can operate these things.
Of course, like all technological innovations—especially those related to warfare—miniaturized drones will breed a generation of countermeasures which will make them less threatening than they seem today. Perhaps in the not so distant future, VIPs and heads of state will routinely have devices that neutralize pesky invaders in their bulletproof limousines and mansions. Perhaps shortly after that, personal drone disruptor shields will be small enough to fit on your belt, and cheap enough for ordinary citizens to afford.
War tends to accelerate technological development; drone technology wouldn’t be where it is today without the global war on terror that we are not supposed to say is still going on. But war or no war, the accelerated development of socially destabilizing technology is part of our core national business model. Turning the world upside down has been our national pastime ever since the British marching band played that tune as they surrendered at Yorktown.
The 20th century had more disruptive technological innovation than the 19th; the 21st century will be more, much more of the same. The attack of the micro-drones is just one of the surprises the future holds in store for us, and most of these surprises, like the drones, will be both blessing and curse.