|Coming soon to a neighborhood near you|
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.