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"Our Drone Future" predicts frightening Big Brother dystopia

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 4:48pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

You didn’t think we’d just use domestic drones for delivering packages and monitoring suspected animal abuse, did you? Of course not — we wouldn’t be furiously debating the legality and ethics of "octocopters" air-mailing copies of Harry Potter. No, the dark undertone of domestic drone usage is their application as omniscient law-enforcement devices, Big Brother-style. And as the video, "Our Drone Future", makes abundantly clear, it’s a frightening prospect.

The video by San Francisco-based designer and musician Alex Cornell predicts a terrifying dystopia where semi-autonomous drones — of no specified design — monitor the citizenry 24/7, fly patrols, predict "malicious intent", and presumably make arrests and engage criminals, all of which has a very science-fiction, Minority Report vibe. It’s one step away from "pre-crime", where law-enforcement punishes the citizenry for future offenses.

"Our Drone Future" takes some major technological liberties — we don’t have A.I. nearly that sophisticated (the "protagonist" even disobeys orders at one point), but then, the "future” portion of the video is unspecified. Many believe that sophisticated artificial intelligence — to include being self-aware — is impossible, but you’re nearly always wrong to bet against technology — especially when it serves the military or law-enforcement.

And regardless of the video’s technical accuracy, the scenarios depicted by Alex Cornell — with video shot by DJI Phantom Drones — seem eerily realistic — right down (SPOILER ALERT) to the rogue citizen shooting down the drone. Cornell uses "After Effects, Premier, Logic, GoPro, and a liberal interpretation of FAA regulations" to explore the "technology, capability, and purpose of drones, as their presence becomes an increasingly pervasive reality in the skies of tomorrow."

Cornell describes the film’s "story" as follows:

"In the near future, cities use semi-autonomous drones for urban security. Human officers monitor drone feeds remotely, and data reports are displayed with a detailed HUD and communicated via a simulated human voice (designed to mitigate discomfort with sentient drone technology). While the drones operate independently, they are "guided" by the human monitors, who can suggest alternate mission plans and ask questions."

Watch the video and ponder the implications....

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