Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Droning On...

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you
I know.  But just think about it.  In a few years, unmanned aircraft are going to have the capability to fly autonomously and independently to any point, navigate by GPS or Terrain Following, and will have effective ranges of hundreds of miles.

So what?  Think about that capability in the hands of State intelligence services and well-funded non-state organizations alike.  How that might change the world.  Opportunities for Blackmail and Protection rackets.  Large scale acts of terrorism that do not require the death of the operators.  Targeted killing - no head of state will ever again be able to make a scheduled public appearance.  His or her location will have to be kept a secret.  Political campaigns will become entirely virtual events.  Nickleback and Creed would never be able to perform another concert.

These things will very soon be cheap, effective, almost impossible to defend against - ubiquitous weapons used almost daily by competing factions, aimed at almost any kind of target.  Why are they hard to defend against?  They fly low and slow - air to air missiles fly at Mach 2 to Mach 4.  Surface to air missiles, along with Anti-Aircraft guns, might be able to get some percentage of them - provided they were EVERYWHERE and there weren't too many attackers - but then you have all that hot metal and explosives falling out of the sky onto - well, anywhere.  Shooting down a couple drones in a populated area might end up costing more lives that failing to shoot them down.

And while the high end is scary enough, think about the low end.  A limited capability drone with a ten kilo warhead and an autonomous GPS navigation system might cost $25,000 or less.  Ex wives, business partners, large creditors - it will certainly become a cost effective solution to a number of pesky problems. And if I launch a drone from somewhere in rural Sonoma or West Marin that kills somebody in San Francisco, I'm going to be able to set up a pretty damn airtight alibi and it's going to be difficult to convict me of the murder.

Sometimes, when the world changes, it's initially very hard to notice.  The first PCs didn't obviously presage the Internet, any more than that windy afternoon at Kittyhawk made today's air travel an obvious outcome.  But make no mistake, the world is changing in a particularly dark and frightening fashion.  Maybe it was inevitable, like nuclear weapons, but if it was always bound to be born, just as with nuclear weapons, the US is the mid-wife, and will bear much of the consequences.


  1. Sometimes, when the world changes, it's initially very hard to notice.
    Just what I was thinking.

    The "eye-in-the-sky" is a common sci-fi deal, but thousands upon thousands of armed eyes takes it up a few notches. Imagine every LAPD & LASD prowl car having a flying robocop (video pretty obviously bogus, but they'll figure how to deal w/ recoil soon enough) under its control.

  2. I shoulda put all my money into MSFT as soon as the company started buying Compaqs instead of IBMs, back in the 80s.

    (We started with Apples II+, and then Apple IIe, but Apple wouldn't put enough memory into their newer computers for us.)

  3. You guys kept wanting to build big, complex spreadsheets, model commercial data and solve complicated business problems.

    Apple wanted you to draw pictures of kitties...

    1. That they did, mikey.

      And they gave us (I mean wanted to sell us) a pretty nifty system to do it.

      I believe it had 128K, double the Apple II+'s 64K.

      IBM offered us some boring chunk of metal with 512K, and that was that.

      P.S. I used to have my programs swap modules off those 5 1/4 inch drives, because of that 64K limit. (These were in Applesoft BASIC, not spreadsheets.)

      I was a spaghetti hero.

  4. I think I've talked about it before, but my first computer was an NCR tower running a 68020 CPU and 2MB of memory. It ran AT&T UNIX SVR3.2 and was a multi-user system. I didn't know any better, so I taught myself to use that thing.

    When I later had to switch to PCs running DOS, I couldn't understand why they were so primitive and wimpy...

  5. A limited capability drone with a ten kilo warhead and an autonomous GPS navigation system might cost $25,000 or less.

    Those iPhones sure are groovy, and there are all sorts of ways to connect them to stuff.

  6. U.S. Drone Strikes: Surprisingly more popular with U.S.ians than foreigners.

  7. Yep. We'll see how that plays out when they start falling on US...