At TEDxCharlotte 2011, Dr. Mark Moore from NASA gave a fascinating talk on the future of personal air travel. In his message, he also addressed the positive potential for unmanned (“autonomous”) vehicles such as self-driving cars and drones:
This is by far one of my favorite TEDxCharlotte talks. The notion that personal travel (with cars and airplanes) has not evolved much in the last 100 years, and that new technology could be just on the horizon to open new vistas of opportunity (amidst radical and social change) was (and is) pretty exhilarating.
But as I’ve told some people about this TEDx talk, usually the first reaction I get — especially when I described “hummingbird” drones that could follow kids as they walk to school in the morning — has been mostly gasps of horror and, well, fear. People naturally fear invasion of privacy, and the potential good of these new devices seems to be outweighed by the negative aspects. There is already a building hysteria about government use of drones inside U.S. borders.
By now, we should all be well aware of the military use of drone devices and the havoc they are capable of wreaking overseas (despite attempts to hide and cover it up). Ian Ebright is producing a film to illustrate a story of how lives can be torn apart by drone warfare.
As a follower of Jesus, I am deeply troubled by the moral disconnect between military controllers in a bunker somewhere in Nevada pushing a button that leads to the death of men, women, and children in a foreign country thousands of miles away. Or the disconnect between the President in the White House or senior administration officials giving the order, which is even one step further removed from the bloodshed.
I’m all for technological progress, and I’m personally thrilled for the new possibilities of personal air travel and some of the possible domestic uses for drones. But I am 100% opposed to the Obama administration’s use of drone warfare for military purposes overseas and here at home. Using drones as eyes to see what is going on in remote places, where it’s unsafe to send in military or police personnel is one thing, but weaponizing and using drones as hands to kill is completely another.
My friends who have criticized me over my support for President Obama (in both elections) have also challenged me to speak up on issues I disagree with this administration about. I have done that — on issues of economic reform, comprehensive immigration reform, etc. — and I will continue to do that, especially over this issue of drone warfare. I’ll be supporting efforts by groups like the Fellowship of Reconciliation as they seek to lobby the government on this issue, and I hope that you’ll join me.
UPDATE 3/3/2013: Speaking at TEDxHelvetia, Andreas Raptopoulos introduced Matternet, a project designed to use small, flying autonomous robots to deliver medicine to places inaccessible by typical modes of transportation. “We believe that Matternet can do for the transportation of matter what the Internet did for the flow of information.” What do you think of this application?