This Is Not The Drone You're Looking For
By R. D. Flavin


Alec Guinness as Jedi Master Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi: “These aren't the droids you're looking for...,” from Star Wars (IV): A New Hope, 1977.

     Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), used to be known as simply “drones,” and were primarily used as unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), though recently they have seen to extended their popularity to hobbyists, who without proper legal regulations and restrictions, are basically flying really large radio controlled airplanes (generally available at many unregulated and privately owned hobby-stores – there's probably one withing a mile or two from where you live. That's for the small radio controlled airplanes, not for the drones... I could easily imagine a local hobby-store owner, when asked about 'something' larger, saying, “This is not the drone you're looking for... Try Best Buy, they've got a starter selection.” Best Buy? Drones? I've got a feeling this is not going to end well...

     I once heard about a fellow who took advantage of his mom throwing stale breadcrumbs in the backyard everyday to feed the birds. One day, a macabre idea occurred to the the young teenager and he soon found himself in the family garage, selected one of his father's fishing-poles, put a rolled-up ball of bread on a treble hook, and cast into the collection of his mother's bread-crumbs in the backyard. Soon, a large crow fly down and seized the bread-ball and treble hook and flew away upwards. According to the story, there were perhaps 45 seconds to a minute of “playing” or “fighting” with the crow, until part of its beak broke off and the crow flew away. The fellow genuinely experienced a moment of “sport,” but the intense guilt of hurting an innocent creature immediately overwhelmed him and he vowed NEVER to hurt another animal again for the rest of his life... Of course, eating cheeseburgers means someone else hurt the animal before it's served on a bun...

Chris Burns hooking a "live" one last week.

     Last week, San Diego fisherman, twenty-eight year old Chris Burns, was annoyed at a personal drone zooming overhead and most expertly cast out and hooked the UAV or RPA or whatever one chooses to call it. By accounts, he spent “perhaps 45 seconds to a minute of 'playing' or 'fighting'” with the drone before his line snapped and the drone flew away. To the best of my research there are only three laws concerning personal drones – 1) they should weigh no more than 25 lbs., 2) they should fly no higher than 400 feet, and 3) they should avoid flying over crowds or groups of people. Yeah, many are working on different, more exacting laws and restrictions, but these are the only three on the books right now.

     Now a cursory examination of military drones usually begins with Israel using U.S.-built unarmed drones during the Yom Kippur war of 1973 to provoke Egypt into wasting time and money. The first “armed” drone is said to have been used by Iran against Iraq during their war of 1980 to 1988. After the so-called 1991 “Gulf War,” armed drones became a standard for military operations in the U.S. and, eventually, elsewhere. There are currently at least 29 countries in possession of armed military drones. And, these puppies are not CHEAP like a remote controlled model aircraft.. Damn, one drone just crashed into the lawn of the White house a couple of weeks ago by a hobbyist with a twisted sense of experimentation.

     And, of course, there have been close calls with commercial air-flights and improper (and illegal) flying over restricted airspace. I'm not usually big on creating 'new' laws', however, we need to reel in the use of private drones (UVA or RPA) before someone or a lot of people get hurt. Besides, there should be SAFTY and PRIVACY issues to be agreed upon and enforced. Common sense can't be bottled, but it can be expressed in regulations and laws.

     The “droids” of George Lucas's Star Wars universe are variously quasi-sentient, human-command controlled, pre-programmed for a specific or series of tasks (a variation of the “human-command” model), good-evil-indifferent in human terms, but distinctively separate from Isaac Asimov's 'Laws of Robotics,” that is: 0 (“zeroth”): A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm; 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except when it conflicts with the first law; and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.” Yeah, “droids,” and drones for that matter are not Asimov's 'robots,' but machines none the less.  Sometimes they work and other times they don't.

     Our use of military drones has been partially successful, tremendously costly, and another weapon in our combat tool-kit. At this point, I'm not a big fan of 'personal' drones, but what creeps me out the most is the proposed pre-programmed drones like those proposed by Amazon. Now, perhaps the creep-factor is similar to Google's driverless cars (with Amazon threatening their own version), yet without the 'human' element we are left with machines which may have been programmed incorrectly (like the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter mishap when separate contractors used both kilometers AND miles), or ...such 'machines could be imbued with sentience and capable of independent thought, in other words ...artificial intelligence.

     Recently, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have joined together to warn us against the creation of a 'true' artificial intelligence (or A.I.). To the layman, this may appear as mere paranoia, but to those who have pondered the possible ramifications, it's basically a great many science fiction movies (most of which ended poorly) made real and most dangerous. Sentient droids and drones are truly frightening. For now, let us hope ...this is not the drone we're looking for.

practicing origami planes,

Return to