Why Drones Are a Really Bad Idea

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Thu, Aug 28 - 12:38 pm EDT | 2 years ago by
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    Drones are everywhere these days. Originally a technology that was limited to warfare, drones are now used by the government for other purposes, by individuals, and soon, they may be used by companies to complete simple, everyday tasks.

    The negative consequences of using drones in war are widely documented. Drones are utilized for targeted strikes — killing operations, to put it more bluntly. The benefit is of course avoiding putting U.S. citizens’ lives at risk by sending them in for ground and air operations. The drawback is that drone attacks often result in civilian deaths.

    An episode of Vice on HBO dug into drone strikes and what happens when we don’t worry about collateral damage like we perhaps should. Many contend that the collateral damage is worse than anyone knows and regardless of the extent, drone strikes are responsible for “extremism and militancy.” Additionally, while the protection of human life on the side of those launching the attacks is notable, drone operators don’t complete missions unscathed. They’re not sitting behind a screen, playing video games — and they’re well aware of it.

    Now that we’ve progressed beyond using drones strictly for war, what does the future look like? A few years ago, the FAA said that it would begin issuing licenses for personal and commercial drone use in 2015. The FAA estimated that over 30,000 drones might be flying the friendly skies by 2020 — and that’s just in the U.S. Remember when The Jetsons was just a fictional cartoon?

    Late last year, Amazon revealed its not-too-distant plan to use drones to deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes of placing their order. Kind of like the old school pizza delivery system of 30 minutes or less to have a piping hot pizza at your door — except the items aren’t for dinner and the delivery method isn’t a car.

    In July, Amazon asked the FAA for an exception to its rule that prohibits the use of commercial drones. Apparently, the company is ready to test drones as delivery vehicles. Amazon isn’t asking to actually use the drones outside of the airspace above the company’s property (yet). Rather, it wants to engage in research and development.

    I don’t like it  because I know where it’s ultimately leading. Amazon will in fact one day (soon) use drones to deliver our packages and the idea of the skies being filled with that many flying objects doesn’t appeal to me, demand be damned. Unsurprisingly, the company has made a not-so-subtle threat to take its operations overseas if the FAA fails to grant Amazon’s request to allow drone testing, stating: “we have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries. Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle.”

    What’s worse: an ultimate abundance of drones or another blow to the economy?

    And then there’s the issue of privacy. “In routine use by today’s military, these unmanned aircraft systems threaten to perfect the art of surveillance. Drones are capable of finding or following a specific person. They can fly patterns in search of suspicious activities or hover over a location in wait. Some are as small as birds or insects, others as big as blimps. In addition to high-resolution cameras and microphones, drones can be equipped with thermal imaging and the capacity to intercept wireless communications,” writes Ryan Calo in the Stanford Law Review. While he sees a lot of benefits to the way privacy law may evolve thanks to drones, I see a lot to worry about. Our privacy is already so limited. I’d ask how it could get worse, but I think it’s obvious.

    Behold, the manner in which you’re likely to receive your deliveries soon:

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