09 March, 2014


“A company called Matternet plans to use drones to build next-generation infrastructure in developing countries.”

Pardon my ignorance, but what is “next-generation infrastructure”? And why does it only get built in developing countries?

The above is a line taken from this enthusiastic Forbes article: Prepare For Takeoff: Where Drones WillMake The Next Big Impact
 Drones are apparently the next big thing. And like the Internet, they are going to save us. 

According to the same article:
Rather than dust an entire field with pesticides, farmers can use this data to direct drones to water and spray individual plants.

Doesn’t that make you feel safe? Instead of people walking around with pesticides, you now have drones dropping out of the sky spraying plants. I am sure these drones are built so brilliantly they can direct their poison in exactly the right place.

Now if drone-makers and propaganda writers for drones are to be believed, drones are about to make agriculture “more sustainable.” As in:
“Every year we spend millions of dollars on over-applied farm chemicals,” explained Charles Malveaux, a Ph.D. candidate in biological engineering at Louisiana State University who’s testing his own unmanned aerial vehicle system at LSU’s AgCenter.
“You expand it out to a global level,” Malveaux continued, “and you’re talking about saving billions of dollars, you’re talking about making farms more efficient and more sustainable."

I guess I misunderstood the word “sustainable.” I thought it meant moving away from toxic chemicals.

So what kind of farms are these, that can apparently absorb the costs of expensive drone pesticide droppers? If Mr. Malveaux  is to be believed, apparently every farm, everywhere. Whoever this Malveaux is, he clearly has sci-fi like understanding of what the “global level’ of agriculture is up to, at the moment.

Because right now I am sitting in a town that seems to be turning, increasingly, towards organic agriculture. They don’t like pesticides. They don’t like genetically modified things. And I think pretty soon they won’t like drones either.

It is clear that the USA is up to its neck in new technology that is just about to be implemented, all on a global level. It is also pretty clear that the regulatory mechanisms for regulating usages of these often deadly technologies has been non-existent, or lost in that euphoria of scientific triumphalism.

The global surveillance of the USA became possible in part because the notion of responsibility has been erased in the search for entrepreneurship, deliverables and proactivity. As long as there’s some results (in the case of the global surveillance, economic profit from stealing data), the culture of the USA now no longer cares what ethical damage happens on the side. Notice how John McCain was the only one to raise a peep against that good guy Keith Alexander.  As he said so aptly:

“We no longer hold anybody accountable in Washington."

Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s representative came back and reported, in that exasperatingly casual American way, that Keith Alexander was a  nice guy and he made some funny jokes that made people laugh. I am paraphrasing here. I guess 7 billion people were waiting to hear something else other than that.

The discourse in the USA still seems to brush aside the global repulsion and horror at the surveillance with a causal shrug, as if all the reaction is overblown. Or as if it will go away, as long as they just continue with Business As Usual. 

There may already be drones out there, spying on us in the form of mosquitoes. We don’t really know if they exist or not. And as far as I know, no regulatory mechanism, especially on a global level, has said this is illegal and those who bring about such technologies go to jail. And of course, nobody’s actually asking: hey, have these guys already made these surveillance drones and are they already spying on people? 

I bet a chocolate bar they are already spying illegally on people.

Is the global community ready with a regulatory and legal response? If tomorrow it comes about that there is widespread usage of these surveillance drones against political dissidents and others, what is the UN prepared to do? What do the Europeans do? What do the USA’ s laws say about all this?

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