Running from Drones

Justin Lockamy Contributing columnist

January 1, 2014

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that six states will develop test site centers for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in an effort to draft regulations for the civil and commercial use of these craft.

Drones have appeared most in the news because of their prevalence in the Afghan war. Flying thousands of feet above the earth, they are used to spy on enemy targets or fire weapons to the same. Military drones are flown most frequently by Air Force pilots from a base just north of Las Vegas.

Recently, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gushed over his company’s recent testing of drones. He envisions them as 21st century deliverymen, carting DVDs, toilet paper, or whatever else their customers purchase directly to the door.

The idea is at once cool and frightening.

Think of all the amazing things drones could do! Consumer goods delivered to the home faster; lost hikers located before it’s too late; survivors of natural disasters found and delivered life-sustaining supplies. Drones are even being used by the UN for its ongoing peacekeeping efforts in the still-turbulent Ivory Coast.

But drones are tools like any other, capable of being used for good or ill. We’ve heard stories of drone-fired missiles missing their marks and killing innocents. Drones could be further used by law enforcement in a manner that violates our reasonable expectation of privacy. And while the drone industry may claim to be able to create many jobs, it will also destroy many others.

The conventional wisdom says that the post-2008 economic recovery is slow and anemic. Due in part to loss of manufacturing jobs overseas, most job growth in recent years has been in service jobs. But this growth in service jobs could very well be threatened by increased application of drone and other automated technologies.

We live in an age of technological miracles that, at its best, promises to relieve us of the need to labor and provide us spare time. Yet we squander these gifts. Instead of living less hectic, demanding lives, we double down, giving ourselves more work in an effort to exploit every efficiency before the other guy can. And thus we fulfill the increasingly unsustainable capitalist imperative to increase productivity and reduce costs for the sake of profit. But what ultimate profit is there in this endlessly hectic lifestyle?

And yet we continue, not out of fear of lost profit, but out of fear of our diminished worth. After all, when the robots have taken all our jobs, we’ll have less to do that seems valuable.

But maybe we’ll learn that our true worth is derived not from our works, but from our mere existence as humans.

Send in the drones.