Resistance is Futile…Our Culture Will Adapt to Service Us…
The release of the recent Life Under Drones report has the League and the blogosphere (See also: Sully’s roundup) as a whole abuzz with the ramifications of drone warfare. I have already made my personal affirmative case for the Administration’s specific policies on drone warfare, but I would like to touch on the broader subject of technological progress and policy making.
I agree substantively with Elias that drones are a genie that have been released from the bottle. No amount of rejection will make them go away. Moreover given the useful roles that drones can fill in things ranging from agriculture to straddling ocean stocks research to search and rescue operations, I’m not certain if it’s even a desirable end if possible.
Automation has been a fact of economic life in OECD countries over the last forty years. The introduction of manufacturing robots of various types, computer technology and mobile communications has fundamentally altered our economic landscape. It has in many cases led to displacements of very large populations of previously human workers whether they be on assembly lines, switchboard stations or even case law research.
The introduction of unmanned vehicles of all varieties is beginning to move automation into public safety and national security. Within the next twenty years. it will be Baywatch that seems hopelessly anarchronistic while Knight Rider prophetic as drones serve as lifeguards and cars drive themselves. These innovations will require actively engaging with the reality of these creations.
Traffic light cameras aren’t going to go away because we don’t like them. Online services aren’t going to stop gathering your data. Unmanned vehicles of one sort or another will start increasingly impacting our lives.
Because the present administration is a center-left Democratic one, left-liberals and libertarians are finding themselves making excuses for automation in different spheres. Liberals are often throwing around drones as the least worst alternative, while libertarians will assert that automation in industry is inevitable and necessary. In both cases each side will claim the other of bad faith when they oppose the intrusion of automation into their cherished sphere. Automation in their chosen sphere is deleterious to human dignity or liberty. Robots in factories just devalue human labor and make the poor worse off, liberals will argue. Libertarians will argue that making force cheap and easy makes it unaccountable and dangerous.
Both are right. But simply denying the use of automation will not get us to a better solution.
The dialogue we need now is how we will balance the introduction of new technologies as adaptations of our way of life, rather than simply intrusions that should be rejected. This feels like we’re giving away far too much from the start, but unless we engage with these arguments, in the end the ones who make use of automation extensively will define the rules. The question is whether or not we are ready to have that dialogue yet.