Artist Ingrid Burrington talks about the problems with “drones for good”:
The best possible scenarios for drone technologies being used in the future center on the question of who owns them? It’s mainly proprietary technology, mostly in the hands of the military, if we are talking about the large, heavy-duty, and weaponized drones, while the smaller hobbyist and consumer-grade drones still are beyond the price point of the average consumer. The concept of using drones for good, while very well intentioned, still feels very much like it’s coming from this neoliberal, nonprofit, industrial-complex mentality, which weirds me out. So the potential for drones having positive social impacts has to do with drones becoming an available tool to those who could use them for establishing equitable power relations. The problem is that drones are tools that by default operate with asymmetrical power relations: the operator can see lots of things that you can’t see. So improving the scenario becomes about allowing people to see what drones see.
There are cheap drones like the Parrot AR, but I’m guessing she’s referring to ones that can fly further and longer. This brings to mind nanosattelites that let you rent time on them to do your own space research. Perhaps we need something similar but for drones?
This reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post this video of the drones panel at the Theorizing the Web conference:
One of my favorite bits is Bridle saying “the history of all aerial stuff is the history of weaponization.” I thought he said the first military use of aerial weapons happened during a Russian attack on Vienna in 1790, but I’m not sure what battle he was referring to. Perhaps my notes are wrong. Wikipedia tells me that the first military use of observation balloons was by the French in 1794. Also, the Chinese were using paper lanterns for military signaling as far back as the 2nd century.
I missed recording the latest Mindful Cyborgs, but Chris Dancy and Alex Williams talked about farm drones, the Human API, Moves (before it was acquired by Facebook!), the Indie Web and more.
Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Drone Shopping with Farmers
For the drone spotters out there:
One such man, an unnamed 33-year-old, told the Halesowen Newsthat after finding a property with a cannabis farm he and his crew either burgle or “tax” the victim.
“They are fair game,” he said. “It is not like I’m using my drone to see if people have nice televisions. I am just after drugs to steal and sell, if you break the law then you enter me and my drone’s world.
“Half the time we don’t even need to use violence to get the crop. Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing it are not gangsters, especially in places like Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury.”
A fleet of surveillance drones once deployed in the skies over Iraq is being repurposed to provide aerial Wi-Fi in far-flung corners of the world, according to Darpa.
RQ-7 Shadow drones that the Army flew in Iraq for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions are now becoming wireless hubs for connectivity in remote conflict zones where challenging communication environments can mean the difference between being ambushed and getting reinforcements.
“What does it mean that I’m able to be throwing these strokes up and across a canvas that is 30 feet wide and is suspended 25 feet in the air?,” he asks. “Painting in these ways just wasn’t previously possible.” Much in the way that smartphones have become an extension of our minds, Katsu wonders if drones could someday serve as a commonplace way to extend our physical selves. Of course, in that sort of drone-filled future, you’d have to imagine that cops would have their own drones, too–anti-graffiti UAVs that chase rogue robot artists through alleyways and across rooftops, or else just clean-up quadcopters that scan walls for illegal art and clean them autonomously with high-powered water weaponry.
Here’s Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Schahill’s first article for The Interceptor, the first publication from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s new media company:
The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.
According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.
The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
James Ball writes that although Amazon’s drone plan is unlikely to happen, it did manage to minimize criticism of Amazon’s corporate practices during cybermonday:
Bezos’ neat trick has knocked several real stories about Amazon out of the way. Last week’s Panorama investigation into Amazon’s working and hiring practices, suggesting that the site’s employees had an increased risk of mental illness, is the latest in a long line of pieces about the company’s working conditions – zero-hour contracts, short breaks, and employees’ every move tracked by internal systems. Amazon’s drone debacle also moved discussion of its tax bill – another long-running controversy, sparked by the Guardian’s revelation last year that the company had UK sales of £7bn but paid no UK corporation tax – to the margins. The technology giants – Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al – have have huge direct reach to audiences and customers, the money to hire swarms of PR and communications staff, and a technology press overwhelmingly happy to incredulously print almost every word, rather than to engage in the much harder task of actually holding them to account.
A bit more about why this won’t work from Wired
Georgia’s WALB reports:
Trying to get contraband into a prison is nothing new, but there is a new method. This week, some creative crooks tried to get tobacco to South Georgia prisoners by using a remote controlled helicopter, but they didn’t get away with it.
A lieutenant from the Calhoun State prison noticed a small helicopter flying over the gates of and a search began. Sheriff Josh Hilton says about an hour later deputies noticed a suspicious black dodge car with Gwinnett County tags on Edison Street.
Full Story: WALB: Crooks get creative to smuggle contraband
Above: generative cities and architecture by Aranda & Lasch
Futurist Chris Arkenberg outlines a possible scenario for urban planning and architecture:
As complex ecosystems, cities are confronting tremendous pressures to seek optimum efficiency with minimal impact in a resource-constrained world. While architecture, urban planning, and sustainability attempt to address the massive resource requirements and outflow of cities, there are signs that a deeper current of biology is working its way into the urban framework.
Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.
This reminds me of the recent sci-fi short story “Crabapple by Lavie Tidhar:
Neighborhoods sprouted around Central Station like weeds. On the outskirts of the old neighborhood, along the Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Siren Road and Sderot Menachem Begin, the old abandoned highways of Tel Aviv, they grew, ringing the immense structure of the spaceport rising high into the sky. Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun, and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighborhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes–
In autumn the neighborhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping. Houses fell like leaves to the ground below and the road cleaning machines murmured happily, eating up the shrunken leaves of former residencies. Above ground the tenants of those seasonal buoyant suburbs stepped cautiously, testing the ground with each step taken, to see if it would hold, migrating nervously across the skyline to other, fresher spurts of growth, new adaptoplant blooming delicately, windows opening like fruit–
For more of Arkenberg check out our interview with him. Want to learn to think like he does? Here’s his guest post listing his favorite books on systems thinking.
And for more big, mad ideas about architecture and cities check out:
Commercial airspace laws are holding back drone journalism, but it’s coming:
The benefits for journalists are evident too, especially for those who are in the field, like many science journalists. Journalists can use drones to report on disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. Having an above-the-ground view may give journalists a better perspective of the extent of a disaster. By making use of sensors attached to drones, journalists can measure numerous parameters such as radiation levels in inaccessible areas. An environment journalist may also be keen to use drones to collect specimen such as polluted water samples while an exploring nature journalist can use them as communication relays so that they can touch base when reporting from remote areas.
Drone journalism appears to make so much sense that two universities in the US have already incorporated drone use in their journalism programs. The Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska and the Missouri Drone Journalism Program at the University of Missouri both teach journalism students how to make the most of what drones have to offer when reporting a story. They also teach students how to fly drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and ethics.
Mother Jones reports:
First things first: No, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is not using drones to vaporize poachers. But thanks to a five million dollar grant awarded by Google on Tuesday, the organization is expanding its use of unmanned aerial vehicles to track and deter criminals who illegally hunt endangered animal species around the world.
George Dvorsky writes:
A new project has been announced in which scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex are hoping to create the first accurate computer simulation of a honey bee brain — and then upload it into an autonomous flying robot.
This is obviously a huge win for science — but it could also save the world. The researchers hope a robotic insect could supplement or replace the shrinking population of honey bees that pollinate essential plant life.