My following article below was originally published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET):
Warfare is no stranger to world history. It has become a byproduct of life itself, though is becoming less of a presence as greater activities emerge, i.e. new developing markets, scientific research, and exponentially growing technologies. For what’s left of warfare in our modern age is being coupled with the growing market of new advanced technologies, particularly that of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka: drones.
One of the more famously used drones by U.S. military is the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, which has been in operation since 1995. According to P. W. Singer, author of Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, “From June 2005 to June 2006, Predators carried out 2,073 missions, flew 33,833 hours, surveyed 18,490 targets, and participated in 242 separate raids.” Frighteningly clarifying that, despite “this massive effort, there is demand for more.” (Singer, p. 35.)
A demand for more, indeed! Thanks to Pitch Interactive, a multi-faceted interactive and data visualization studio in San Francisco, they’ve provided an amazingly well-researched digital infographic chart, which compiles every drone strike by U.S. military in Pakistan alone. Starting in 2004, year of the first ever recorded drone strike in the country, up to now, the people of Pakistan have had to suffer from over 360 attacks thus far. According to the U.S. government, these UAV attacks are done so to eliminate enemy combatants. And yet, despite 47 high-profile targets being successfully killed as a result of these drones, this only makes up 1.5% of all drone strikes in the country in the last 9 years. As the chart clearly shows, using datasets provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), out of the 3,115 victims of drone strikes in the country, 175 (5.6%) were children, 535 (17.2%) were normal civilians, and 2,358 were labeled “Other”. This, according to Pitch, “is classified differently depending on the source. The Obama administration classifies any able-bodied male a military combatant unless evidence is brought forward to prove otherwise. This is a very grey area for us. These could be neighbors of a target killed. They may all be militants and a threat. What we do know for sure is that they are targeted without being given any representation or voice to defend themselves.”
This is a big problem.
Anti-drone warfare activism growing
So much a problem that Yemeni youth activist Farea al-Muslimi courageously stood before the U.S. Senate and spoke on how UAV drone strikes in his country – Yemen – were the underlying cause of radical anti-U.S. fanaticism.
According to the BIJ, the country Yemen has suffered its fair share of drone strikes over the years as well, resulting in hundreds of lives being slain. Somalia suffers much less, but it’s certainly a growing presence as military drones continue expanding and being funded by The Boeing Company, a multinational aerospace and defense corporation.
Muslimi and the BIJ aren’t alone, though, in their fight against drone warfare. In a unusual show of unity, U.S. anti-war activists and stockholders of Boeing have joined forces in opposition to the company’s construction of drones being used for imperialist war mongering. In their show of opposition, they pointed out not only the thousands of lives being decimated as a result of drone strikes from Yemen to Afghanistan, but also the millions of dollars being wasted in the construction of these killer drones, rather than being spent on more important things like our education system.
Hundreds of U.K. citizens have taken up the cause against drone warfare as well. Recently over 600 activists came together and marched in opposition to what they deemed as “drone sharing” between the U.K. and U.S. governments and military. Not to mention opposition to their own govt’s role in drone strikes throughout the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. in particular, though, is witnessing a growth in the anti-drone movement. Unlike the anti-technology opposition known as Luddism, the anti-drone movement in the U.S. is taking a stand against the abuse of drone technology. Opposition to U.S. imperialism and their use of UAVs as a means of remaining a dominating force over other countries is only one part of the movement as a whole. Other elements of the movement are recognizing and opposing the recently approved requirement by the U.S. govt for intelligence gathering drones to operate in domestic skies, pointing out the clear violation of citizens’ privacy.
Not all drones are bad
Despite the hostility between anti-war activists and the U.S. military regarding drone warfare, the technology of drones should not be caught in the crossfire. The technology itself is amazing and could be used to do so much good. In fact, while war-mongering govts are using drones to inflict harm, a growing movement of techno-philanthropists, DIY innovators, and social activists are coming together to build low-cost drones in order to help those in danger, to conserve our environment, and gather more information regarding several animal species on the brink of extinction.
One of the projects being pushed forward is ConservationDrones.org. Through this project they develop and build next-generation, low-cost drones so that the general public can participate in what is becoming a global movement to help one another. They receive help from ResearchDrones LLC and work alongside several humanitarian groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
DIY Drones is another growing movement which is spearheading drone development. Here people come together to buy and sell personally designed UAVs, participate in workshops to help build new designs, and then to show off to the world your progress and finished inventions. As millions of more people join the online community as more cell phones and laptops become available every year in developing countries, projects like DIY Drones will become a huge inspiration to those seeking something new to help their own community and country.
Google has since taken up the cause as well, helping fund and develop UAVs which will be used to track down poachers in developing countries and protect the wildlife. Last year, the WWF had received $5 million when they won Google’s 2012 Global Impact Awards, resulting in their ability to develop and buy more drones to use and help animals in need who are being illegally hunted down throughout the globe.
These drones being used aren’t large or expensive. They’re quickly becoming much smaller and much cheaper, not to mention a lot more efficient. These information technologies are exponentially growing, as are every other information technology, as understood by Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. Since last year, scientists and researchers at Harvard University’s robotics laboratory, for the first time, have given flight to tiny robotic insects known as RoboBees. According to the researchers, the RoboBee project could be used for “distributed environmental monitoring, search-and-rescue operations, or assistance with crop pollination,” and as they become more efficient, “enable a new class of complex medical devices.”
When comparing counter-productive usage of UAV war drones being developed by the U.S. military and corporations with the amazing advancement of humanitarian UAV drones being developed by citizen scientists, techno-philanthropists, and DIY innovators, the late Bill Hicks, U.S. comedian and activist, really hit the nail in the head when he said, “everyone got excited about the technology and I guess it was pretty incredible watching a missile fly down an air vent. Pretty incredible, but couldn’t we feasibly use that same technology to shoot food to hungry people?” (Bill Hicks, Relentless, 1992)
Which begs the question to all of us: which side are we going to choose? Will we stand with imperialism and war-mongering as our govts use technology as a means of destruction, death, and profit-making, or will we stand with the rest of the population and help build technologies that’ll help alleviate poverty, put an end to wildlife poaching, and protect our environment?
As theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson once said:
“The great question for our time is, how to make sure that the continuing scientific revolution brings benefits to everybody rather than widening the gap between rich and poor. To lift up poor countries, and poor people in rich countries, from poverty, to give them a chance of a decent life, technology is not enough. Technology must be guided and driven by ethics if it is to do more than provide new toys for the rich.” (Dyson, Progress In Religion)
Technology is no longer solely in the hands of big govts or corporations. It is in the hands of the everyday citizen. The time is now for us to guide technology to help build a new and better world.
DIY Drones. http://diydrones.com/
Pitch Interactive. Out of Sight, Out of Mind. http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/
Singer, P. W. “Introduction: Scenes From A Robot War.” Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. Penguin Books, 2009. 35. Print.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/