Why Drones Need Our Better Angels

Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick PhD is an associate professor of political sociology. He teaches at the Kroc School of Peace Studies on the University of San Diego campus, and while his interests are varied, he’s most passionate when it comes to the study of social movements and social change, with an added emphasis on the role that technology plays in society.

Of particular interest is how the advent of small, commercially available drones will play out in our everyday lives. Austin opens his talk at the Kroc School’s Peace Innovators Conference by talking about how he and a grad student measured the size of a crowd during a protest in Budapest, Hungary. He’s a big believer in empowered people and accountable authorities.

This was a protest against the government’s plan to initiate a tax on internet usage. And while previous protests in Budapest had been relatively small, this one was predicted to be much bigger, and by using a drone to capture the event Austin was able to verify the size of the crowd, which was far greater than the government claimed. In the end, the government was forced to drop their plan. So in this case, drone technology served the public quite well.

Drones can help us see the world from a new perspective, and drones can hold the powerful to account. – Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

But Austin goes on to talk about what may lie ahead with the expanded use of drones, as they can be used, just like any other technology, for good or for evil. He reminds us that the internet has evolved from the information superhighway, to the dark web, in the span of just three decades. Despite best intentions, over time the technology has enabled criminals.

Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress. – Paul Virilio

Online banking provides great benefit, yet it also exposes us to having our account hacked. Mapping software can guide us to our destination, while at the same time tracking our every move and location. Social media sites can connect us to friends, but can also become a platform for hijacked political debates. A classic case of unintended consequences.

And drones are undergoing a similar evolution. Watch Austin’s talk to gain insight as to how our future may be affected, for better or worse, by the increased implementation of drone technology. Which of the scenarios presented will come to pass? Do you seen this technology serving society, or becoming a tool for the self-serving? Are you excited, frightened, cautious?

Aerial Drone Over Lake

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

In short, technology has become a character in our personal story, and can shift the narrative in many ways. As you think about the trajectory of your story, and the wisdom you wish to share with others, think about how technology has affected, or could affect, your storyline.

Peace Innovators is a program from the Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego in which select faculty members prepare presentations that are focused on the human issues they address within their professional studies as well as class curriculum. I had the pleasure of working with each of these speakers as they prepared their talks.

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