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Drones: How Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Robotics Are Shaping Our Future

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Block Beat (six1@uic.edu)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a drone as “an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control.” Seems simple enough, right? However, the controversy surrounding the use of these aircrafts is not so cut and dry.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uses drones to carry aerial surveillance cameras, which provoke issues of privacy and security. According to a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, “the technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing, and our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with constitutional values.” The most pressing issues engulfing this conflict lie in the privacy and security implications, as well as the human repercussions of drone use.

But why should students, or anyone, care?  The commercial use of drones is not a faraway or remote danger—it is an existent crisis.  The reality of drones seeping into our everyday lives is a present threat, and soon we will not have the luxury to ignore it any longer. With an abundance of information flooding in from the media with reports of drones causing 10 times more civilian deaths than manned planes, or Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina reporting the total number of deaths due to drones to be nearly 5,000, it is challenging to perceive drones as anything aside from killing machines. This influx of media coverage on the number of innocent, civilian deaths due to aerial robotics of this nature compels us to question our own perceptions of drone use.  It is not uncommon to associate negative connotations with these technologies, making it difficult to venture the thought that drones might be valuable resources for combatting terrorism and protecting human lives.

Drones can be compared to language, which is a tool neither good nor bad in and of itself. Individuals, groups and cultures may use communication for evil, but that does not necessarily make communication or language inherently bad.  The same holds true for unmanned aerial robotics. President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, said it best in a January 2013 Council Special Report.  He says that, “Like any tool, drones are only as useful as the information guiding them.” The future of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles is nearing closer to home, as drones become increasingly more widespread and common.  But, like any other tool, drones possess the capability to become forces of good or forces of evil, depending on how, when, where and why they are being used.

Looking at the positive aspects and the negative implications of drone use in the United States and abroad, it is brutally clear that the decision-makers involved in this issue are the political figures in positions of power, including members of the American Civil Liberties Union, members of the Council on Foreign Relations and military leaders in influential positions.  But what we cannot forget is that we have voices and our voices hold power, whether we exercise that through surfing the Web to learn more about the consequences or advantages of drones, talking about it with classmates and teachers, or writing to bring issues of privacy and security to the forefront of people’s minds.  We have the power to seek out information and form opinions for ourselves about unmanned aerial technologies, which may impact the direction drones take in the future.

Whether you believe drones are brutal killing machines threatening our privacy or if you believe they are technological advancements providing an enhanced level of security and protection for humanity, one thing is certain: drones will indubitably affect our lives now and in the near future, making the controversy surrounding drones everyone’s concern.

For more on drones:

Drones and surveillance http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-10-15/news/sns-rt-us-eu-defence-20131015_1_surveillance-drones-eu-governments-eu-states

Did Obama keep his drone promises? http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/25/opinion/bergen-drone-promises/

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Here’s a report from Stanford/NYU called “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan”.

    http://www.livingunderdrones.org/report/

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