Drones and the Question of “The Human”

| June 12, 2014
Africa Patrol. Stephen Whisler. Pastel on paper, 2013.

Africa Patrol. Stephen Whisler. Pastel on paper, 2013.

Domino’s Pizza is testing “Domicopter” drones to deliver pizzas, which will compete with Taco Bell’s “Tacocopter” drones. Not to be outdone, Amazon is working on an army of delivery drones that will cut out the postal service. In Denmark, farmers use drones to inspect fields for the appearance of harmful weeds, which reduces herbicide use as the drones directly apply pesticides only where it is needed. Environmentalists send drones into glacial caves or into deep waters, gathering data that would be too dangerous or expensive for human scientists to procure. Federal Express dreams of pilotless aerial and terrestrial drones that will transport goods more cheaply, reliably, and safely than vehicles operated by humans. Human rights activists deploy drones over conflict zones, intelligently searching for and documenting abuses for both rhetorical and legal purposes. Aid agencies send unmanned drones to villages deep in jungles or behind enemy lines, maneuvering hazardous terrain to bring food and supplies to endangered populations. Medical researchers are experimenting with injecting drone blood cells into humans that can mimic good cholesterol carriers or identify and neutralize cancerous cells. Parents in Vermont are using flying drones to accompany children to school, giving a whole new meaning to helicopter parenting. And Pilobolus, a New York dance company, has choreographed a dance in which drones and humans engage each other in the most human of acts: the creation of art.

In all areas of life, there is a rush to adopt drones to make our lives better. But the significance of drones to human civilization is poorly understood. In our headlong embrace of drone technology, we are forgetting to ask two basic questions: What is a drone? And what does it mean that the once obvious boundary separating human and machine intelligence is being diminished?

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Category: Essay, Issue 28.2

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