Drones, iPads and Other “Toys”…

quad 1In creative writing, you can boil-down most plots to a small handful.  The two most common are:  Man vs. Man and Man vs. Nature, though we stretch the terms a bit.  King Kong, Alien, Sharknado, and Terminator, all mostly fit into that Man Against Nature Category.  Quietly and insidiously our own machines have crawled into our private worlds, our bedrooms, kitchens and dens and taken up residence.  These creatures can be just as dangerous as any sci-fi monster.  We see it in our children, but not so much in ourselves.   As adults, we view the actions of our children with a bit of disdain mixed with fear.  Is there any hope for an eight-year-old peering at his iPhone while a huge, bellowing hot air balloon drifts just 20 feet over his head?

And yet…as moralistic as I’ve waxed, watching this happening with our kids, I look in the mirror and realize that my own iPad is rarely more than an arm’s length away.  At three forty-five in the morning, it’s already got the New York Times up-and-running for me.  Forget the name of that favorite movie or actor?  Google or Siri is eager to help.  I can’t honestly point fingers just at the kids.  It’s happening and continues to escalate.

 textingYeah But…  “Yes, Henry, but you don’t understand.  I really do need to be able to talk on my iPhone…ALL the time.  Yes, even in the car. I’m actually that good.  Besides,  if  I wanted to, I could stop any time I want.”

“Do you really believe that?”  I don’t.  I tried it for a few hours.   But then, my brain whispered, “Okay, you actually have to check your e-mail, your text messages, etc.  This ain’t funny…”   It’s the same thing an alcoholic says,  “Hey!  I can stop.  But right now, I really need that drink.  Gimme the damn bottle…”

siriBut here’s where the plot gets interesting…Siri:  For about two weeks now, Pamela’s iPad has been acting strangely, and I’m not embellishing here.  We’ll be sitting at dinner with both iPads plugged in on the other side of the room and…from out of nowhere, Siri enters into the conversation.  Yeah…really.

The first time it happened, I was 100% positive that Pam had flicked some switch or a button had gotten stuck, though it hadn’t.  What was worse, or make that more insidious were the times and subjects at which Siri chose to…jump into the conversation with both feet.  A week ago we were discussing what was  just in a particular court ruling when, in the middle of a sentence, Siri asked us if we’d like to know more about Justice.  We looked at each other.  I said, “No thank you, Siri” and began to go on, but then she offered-up a term we hadn’t even verbalized, Equality.  At that point, I went over and powered the unit completely off…I think.  But it left us wondering.

Spike-Jonze-Artificial-Intelligence-Her-Joaquin-Phoenix-Scarlett-Johansson-630x932Her:  This morning over breakfast we were discussing some concepts regarding drones and the same thing happened.  Siri powered-up all by her lonesome and actually entered the conversation.  It kinda made me think of a new movie that’s just coming out, “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with a futuristic Siri.

I powered Pam’s iPad down, but then I looked over at my own iPad sitting there, and wondered…  And in that moment, it was brought to crystal clarity that you and I and everyone else with an iAnything or an Android-Anything really have no idea what extra micro-chips are in these units.  Can the NSA decide to listen in on your iPad? iPhone, while it’s just sitting there on the table?  I don’t know, but I imagine it would be extremely easy to do.  Think about it.  We are.

Drones:  I’ve written at length before on the subject of Drones.(See: We Don’t Need No Education  http://henryharveybooks.com/uncategorized/we-dont-need-no-education/)  In a wartime situation they are in a precarious place…as we are…as a country, a civilization, and a planet.  On one side, these devices are the perfect ultimate weapon, capable of making decisions and acquiring targets insanely faster than we as human beings can.  In the short term, it saves lives, because no pilot is occupying that drone, if it gets shot down.  When you are speaking of war, however, remember this:  Whatever weapon you use against a foe, if it is effective and available, expect it to be used against you.  There is also that little issue of creating a machine to go out and actually kill a human being…all by itself.

tiny quadEven now, in its infancy, Drones come in all sizes: from small bugs, to birds, to things capable of carrying a machine gun, to things capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.  Drones are highly effective and HUGELY available, and at pennies versus our millions spent on super fighters.   A drone could show up at your house while you’re away and park in a tree or somewhere unobtrusive on your roof, and you could be bugged, watched, or executed without ever knowing you were in danger.  It’s here right now…today.

From Whence I Speak:  If someone is attempting to bend my ear, I like to know whether that person has any credentials at all or at least some perspective that might be enlightening.  Here goes…quick thumbnail:  As a kid, I was a poster boy for model airplanes, radio control and things that go “bang” in the night.  In college, I majored in philosophy, ETHICS in particular, which may account for some of these articles.  But then…I flew jet fighters during the Vietnam War.  A strange and unlikely mixture?  Oh YEAH…  I was also a Tempest officer, whose central focus is bugs, drones, and other unmentionables.  I was good at it.

Most recently, to know more of what I’m talking about, I acquired an extremely sophisticated drone of my own.  ALERT:  It’s extremely difficult to get one.   First, I had to take a number of tests, pass a background check and finally register with the military as well my local and state police.  Oh, wait a minute.   What I meant to say was: I clicked “buy” on Amazon and it showed up two days later.  Anyone can buy one.  Anyone…

quad 3LETHAL:  I won’t mention the name of the company but they are big and have huge resources to make the best equipment you can buy…close to military grade.  My personal quadcopter drone has GPS, sensors for everything, super hi-res cameras and can fly for a long, long time carrying, well, anything I want.  They do tell you that anyone under 18 years of age is too damn young to be owning one (and I agree).  They also warn you that, with no modification whatsoever, it is lethal and can kill.  Excuse me?  What?  That’s correct.  This thing, which vaguely resembles a toy, can kill you.  Well…so can a hammer or a box cutter or a carving knife, though this one can swoop down from out of nowhere and nail you before you could say, “huh?” and it’s all controlled remotely.  They can be 1500 feet away and viewing you through their iPhone which conveniently connects to the device.  Wow.  Is that cool…or is that monstrous?  I guess it depends on where you, the reader, is coming from.  I think it’s something to be concerned about.

Drones MovieThe Movie: DRONES:  Producer/director and old friend, Rick Rosenthal has just finished his latest project, an independent movie, appropriately titled: Drones.  Here is a clip.  The film runs about an hour and half and it focuses on the moral quandary that the people are experiencing, having a “Kill” button at their fingertips while steering laser-guided drones in for attacks against specific individuals.    It’s good.  It makes you stop and think about what is really going on and…should it continue?   Take a look for yourself.  The trailer is two minutes well-spent.  http://vimeo.com/77569902 Rick is goin’ for it with this movie.  If you’re old enough to remember what a Grassroots Cause is… this is a good one.  Care to roll up your sleeves?

The Golden Rule:  Our family is more spiritual than religious.  I think that best describes us.  But a huge cornerstone of our ethical code goes back to this:  The Golden Rule.  I purchased this thing for several reasons:  In one way, it’s enjoyable and challenging to fly.  In another, for business purposes, I want to be able to take  360 degree elevated videos of the large outdoor sculptures I create, as well as take close-up shots of birds in nests 100 feet up, and our property…should we ever want to sell. Rest assured, with every sortie I fly, treating others the way I’d like to be treated will be at the very top of the list.  And in future, articles we’ll be exploring the many good things that can be accomplished with these devices.

take offBut others may not have such a humdrum purpose behind their purchases.  You don’t ever want to see anyone in the vicinity of an airport with a drone, toy-like or otherwise.  If you do, call the police.  Those two don’t mix innocently or otherwise.  That is just one scenario.  There are 4,999 more.  The question isn’t just about your privacy, it’s about your life and our survival as a species.


P.S.  If you’re curious about the whole concept of drones, there’s a large and fascinating site devoted to the topic.  Like it or not, it’s the way of the future.  Taming it is the challenge:  https://flipboard.com/section/multirotor-news-bcbQLn


9 Responses to "Drones, iPads and Other “Toys”…"

  1. Greg Meurs says:

    Drones clip; my first impression is based on facial expressions of the actors. I got a definite “vibe” from the female and male. Simplistically, the female body language or facial expressions are what we would generally expect; caring, suspicious, non-violent, liberal, judgmental based on no data. Whereas, the male acted upon orders, no data, no proof, just what he was told to do. I, have become skeptical of government, authority, and what we are told. A drone does not offer us anymore than a picture, and judgment is based on prejudice and perception along with what information we are given, but not necessarily valid. I agree with the girl.

    Greg M.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Thanks for your viewpoint, Greg. I appreciate it!

      It’s dangerous to apply boilerplate ethics, meant to answer every situation. But…observing WWII, Nazi Germany, as well as Japan, and sometimes the US, it’s extremely dangerous to use the excuse, “I was only following orders.” Discipline is mandatory in the military. But thinking is necessary as well. Remember the My Lai Massacre in 1968? Heard of Nuremberg Trials? If we give up our humanity…what’s left isn’t worth very much.


  2. C. Patterson says:

    A most interesting blog.
    It seems to me that ever since the Gulf War, our government and the military have done their best to make war as anticeptic as possible. We watched tanks blow up like in a PacMan game, and many US citizens actually cheered while watching them die on TV. The military featured a “weapon of the week”…remember daisy cutters? Fuel air explosives? Cruise missiles?

    Now we have drones doing all the work remotely. No one has to be accountable. No one has to see the blood, the blown-up bodies, and the massive destruction. Just let the drones do it! So simple and so cheap.
    There is a military base in Horsham, PA, that is piloting drones to kill people in Afghanistan… Yes, let’s just phone it in, folks.
    When the day arrives that “the enemy” sneaks a drone into the US and blows some of us up, it will be, “Those bastards!” What goes around, comes around, only back with a vengeance.
    As a society, we are becoming morally bankrupt.

    Charles P.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Hi Charles,
      The only place where I disagree with you is on sneaking drones into the US. That won’t happen because it won’t have to happen.
      Go on the internet, right now and you can find anything and everything you need. It’s obscene.
      P.S. If you must fight an enemy, it’s best to study him, attempt to understand his mind, rather than dehumanize him. It’s just good strategy. The Muslims fighting us don’t just hate us. That’s too weak a word for it. In a twisted way, we are a component of their religion. Kill an infidel and go straight to heaven and eternal bliss. And…you can bring along 30 others to heaven as well. We are like devils to them and killing them with drones only makes the survivors more resolute. It’s not working. It never worked. It never will work. What do you think the solution is to that conjugation?


  3. R.B. says:

    (Editor’s note: Due to the in-depth knowledge of this individual’s reply, it was necessary to redact certain parts of the content.)

    As usual your writing makes me reflect and think. I don’t just react to the words on the screen, but the mind mulls it over and over. Then I react, not necessarily to your words, but to what my mind is processing. So I never come to a critique of your writing, I just extend from it.

    I read thru this one a few times and pretty honestly have to admit that I was gripped by the video. And much of that was driven by your comment that whatever we do to others will come back and be done to us. I get it and so the “ethical” reaction by the female Lt. was interesting to put in that context. Out of our culture and values comes her revulsion at killing a bunch of civilians – women and children as they appeared in the clip. But would “the other side” have that cultural/value driven reaction and hold back, or just pull the trigger and take out another skyscraper full of innocents? I think we have to plan on the latter, but no one really is.

    And totally get it re the grip of technology and the fact that one’s computer, your Siri, can be deeply intrusive in life. I can tell you some pretty horrid stories about XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX A few words about that appear on Wikipedia ref Al Gore. But as I’ve watched the compulsive use of tech by others, something in me is constantly pushing down on my priority list the use of tech personally.

    Allow me to expand on your drones, Siri, and the like. We did a lot of serious risk assessment during my time at XXXXXXXXXX. My boss was quite taken with analyzing the threats of tomorrow, given that in some sense we at least have a mitigation strategy around those that we know of today. And we did not just do this by our own internal navel gazing. We called in experts and one of those was XXXXXXXXXXX
    We pretty much felt certain where a future humanity-threatening problem would arise. With the drastic evolution of the computing power and technology to MAKE genomic material, and at costs that are falling dizzyingly fast, it is only a matter of time before some incredibly malign bug, virus or whatever is created and then disbursed. If bad enough, it truly could wipe out humanity, the capability exists now, and thus we will probably face a real problem of huge magnitude in our life times. There are virtually no controls on the distribution and availability of the equipment to do this.

    One final word. I’ve been using Skype with some frequency to communicate with XXXXXXXXXX And I confess to looking up at the camera mounted on my computer screen with some frequency to see if the light is on. But then again, the light does not have to really be on to have the camera on. My sense of “I really don’t care about privacy,” however, is driven mostly by the fact that in reality there is virtually nothing that I’ve done to warrant “making news.” So who cares if the world can see it.


    • Henry Harvey says:

      In my youth, I was raised on a literary diet, heavy on science fiction. Every week or two, I’d race to the mailbox to see what Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and a dozen others were extrapolating as our possible future. It was always heartening reading Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics in particular. Even as a child, my mind whispered, “At least there’s some safety net.” Truth is, there isn’t…not even a tiny one. We were all extremely naive.
      There aren’t rules of engagement, ethics, integrity if you don’t actually program the computer chip with one. It’s that simple. And with the exception of warp drive and the ability to “Beam me down, Scotty” we’ve blown past the predicted technology. We just didn’t consider humanity or the fact that, socially we haven’t progressed so much as an eye lash from the time of the Egyptians…Greeks…(Cavemen?). We just have incredibly more powerful weapons.

      So far…the balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States has been a troubled-but-balanced one, primarily because our two cultures would rather live, breed, love…and drink vodka than die. But there has been a growing power in the world, religiously powered, in which dying for a sacred cause is a direct ticket to Nirvana for the perpetrator and 30 of his kin. It’s a powerful inducement and…with our technology now spiraling to small and cheap, anyone can do it. Wake up call. There is no dress rehearsal.

      Strange that the ancient theological concept that…my religion (fill-in your preference here) is correct and everyone else will essentially burn in hell, has survived with no change over thousands of years, though we’ve since learned that the world is not flat, nor the center of the universe. And it’s those old ancient beliefs…all of them, that thrust us to what is now the potential end of mankind.

  4. C.H. says:

    I really enjoyed the article. Plato once wrote of learning to read, “if men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls because they rely upon what is written and will not exercise their memory because they will rely on that which is written.”. And there is truth in this. I had to read, and re-read the quote four times to make sure I remembered and copied it down correctly. Fast-forward to present day, and there are scientific studies saying that having a smart phone on hand is causing us to be less attentive, less able to remember faces, places, and bits of information.

    With the smart phones, the Siris, the constant connection to a whole world of information we are now able to create works of art, literature, music, sculpture, painting, and movies that would have been impossible in any other era. We have democratized the process. In theory now, anyone can rise to greatness. And yet everyone is also more vulnerable too, in this constant state of connectivity as you pointed out.

    Even if folks like the NSA are reeled in, the Amazons and Googles of the world will not be stopped or slowed. At least not in our capitalist society. That old joke among poker-players- “if you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, it’s you”, has become all of us. Every Facebook search, every look up on WedMD, every peek at the Victoria Secret website is being saved, and run through filters to fit in to profiles for any company that has the money to pay for it. This is the era of micro-targeting. Micro-targeting by drones, by the GOP and the Democrats during elections, and by your local grocery store for 50 cents off shampoo and packs of boneless chicken.

    In a way, we are already becoming the cyborgs of the sci-fi novels, but in a less neat-o fashion. We are flesh and blood, but also a long and ponder chain of 0s and 1s that document our hopes, our dreams, and spending patterns which have become, to commerce and big business, as important as our bodies ourselves- more powerful, more knowledgeable then ever, and more vulnerable too. In the past, we could be killed by a rock or a spear, now our lives can be destroyed by drones, or by someone with the ability to manipulate those 0s and 1s.

  5. Peter Ronai says:

    Balancing Privacy and Security
    At one level, there is an inverse relationship between privacy and security. The more the NSA snoops, the less our privacy, but then the more it is able to detect and prevent hostile acts against the USA. If one accepts that the motives of the NSA are pure, this is a simple inverse relationship.

    The more paranoid among us, however, attribute motives to the NSA other than national security. After all, did not our Founding Fathers feel that “We the People” need to be protected from our government? Most of the Bill of Rights is directed at that end, particularly the “unreasonable search and seizure” bit. That’s where the simple inverse relationship between privacy and security breaks down. Increased privacy from government snooping results in increased security from government persecution, i.e., the relationship between privacy and security is now direct rather than inverse.

    That’s the dichotomy, and one’s position depends on where one stands on the trust vs. paranoia spectrum.

    I don’t care what the government knows about me as I have nothing to hide. I want it to peruse every database it can if that’s what it takes to protect us from hostile acts. Others may wish to conceal certain of their affairs because they do have something to hide. The result is that We the People will never achieve universal agreement on what the government should be allowed to do. The best we can do is place some limits on the government’s activities, and the best set of limits we have at the moment is the Bill of Rights.

    Unfortunately, the problem does not end there. The Supreme Court is skilled at misinterpreting the Bill of Rights. It has classified all sorts of non-verbal activities as speech (ignoring the dictionary definition of Speech), and allowed such activities to be freely practised under the guise of “Free Speech.” For example, I can burn the Flag with impunity, despite never uttering a word, because the Supremes have said in their infinite wisdom, that burning a flag constitutes speech. They have completely ignored the “well-regulated militia” provision of the Second Amendment by allowing “the right to bear arms” without the concomitant responsibility of membership in a well-regulated militia such as the National Guard. They have classified corporations as people, and decided on ideological grounds which rights belonging to individuals should be conferred on corporations.

    The debate about drones is no less contentious. The simple solution would be for pilotless aircraft to adhere to the same rules as piloted aircraft. In wartime, both are used to “take out” enemy combatants. In peacetime, neither should be used to “take out” anyone. That said, the difficulty comes in defining “wartime.”

    Even in wartime, both piloted and pilotless aircraft have killed (non-combatant) civilians. As depicted in the movie “Drone,” it seems easier for drone jockeys to determine if non-combatants happen to be included in the target zone. This should make it easier for drones to minimize civilian casualties than for piloted aircraft, which attack at greater velocities and usually from higher altitudes. It could be argued therefore that drones can be used with more discrimination than is possible otherwise. Complicating the problem is the use of human shields by certain combatants, a practice prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

    I’m not holding my breath
    Despite, or perhaps because of, having served in the Australian infantry, and in the RAAF, my preferred solution would be to abolish war. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen! Wars have been fought throughout human history, and will probably continue to be fought. In place of wars I would prefer to see the development of international sanctions powerful enough to pre-empt war. Unfortunately, aggression by non-state players, as well as the power of veto by certain members of the U.N. Security Council, will make this unlikely for the foreseeable future, so I don’t have a real solution. We will continue to kill each other by any available means, including drones, and the inevitable paranoia fueled by the resulting threats to our security will continue to result in erosion of our privacy.
    Peter R.

  6. Henry Harvey says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate response. I agree with your inverse-relationship assessment.

    Regarding the drones, I think the field is a bit more complex. If it were only a matter of piloted vs. pilotless, and…if we could simply legislate to the whole planet, things would,indeed, be simple. The problem, however, is drones come in all shapes, sizes, and scales of magnitude.

    30 years ago, I wrote a novel, titled Infestation, in which, using nanotechnology, the CIA was using nature’s own: tiger beetles, bumblebees, preying mantises, etc. only reinterpreted via nanotechnology. It was a bit ahead of its time back then.

    No longer. Right now, today, the White House, which has SAMs on the roof to protect against the sort of aerial attack you’re contemplating, has no defense whatsoever against a bug, or Darpa-esque hummingbird flitting through a door…window. We are behind the power curve with…to steal from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, “the little things”.

    And little things like the Soviet KH-22 Mach-5 cruise missiles (drones) capable of sending one of our supercarriers to the bottom in one shot. Difficult to legislate these things, though I’m more concerned right now, with the religious zealots armed with quadcopters…and buzzy mechanical insects. Much, much harder to fight, track…stop.

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