Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Killer Robots Bite Back (with a helpful educational website)

Some years ago, back in grad school, I asked one of my fellow students what he was working on. "I'm working on building robots," he told me, "Robots that fly around and can bite people." At the time, I was a bit taken aback by this, and I took some consolation from the fact that educational theory, my own subject, had somewhat less direct destructive potential.

As it turned out, however, my colleague had picked an excellent dissertation topic--as of 2012, the robots that bite (and that do rather more than bite) have been proliferating. One might say, in fact, that we are well into the era of the killer robot. Naturally, not everyone is overjoyed about this. What with this business of unmanned aircraft wiping people out left and right, people are starting to see these 21st century engineering marvels as harbingers of the surveillance society. As a result, drones have a bit of a PR problem.  

Thankfully, the good folks who manufacture these devices have taken notice, and this month, for all fans, young and old, of killer robot technology, there's a new hope on the horizon: a brand new "public education website" dedicated to showing "how the unmanned systems and robotics industry literally increases human potential by working for the human in dull, dirty, dangerous and difficult tasks." Over at, a site sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), you can find out about all the wonderful ways in which drones are transforming our lives for the better. They're saving endangered species, they are "fostering education and learning," and they are, surprise surprise, "enhancing public safety." This isn't just any old increase in human potential--it's a literal increase in human potential. Like, literally.

And as the AUVSI duly informs us, there's even a new drone caucus in Congress now. The Senate Unmanned Aerial Systems Caucus is a bipartisan collaboration between climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe (Oklahoma) and coal industry advocate Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia). Senator Inhofe tells us more:
The caucus will help educate senators and staff on the importance of all unmanned systems, including air, land and sea-based platforms.This caucus will help develop and direct responsible policy to best serve the interests of U.S. national defense and emergency response, and work to address any concerns from senators, staff and their constituents.  I hope that all of our colleagues in the Senate will join and participate in this bipartisan caucus. 
What a happy day for America! What a victory for bipartisanship! Who says it's a do-nothing congress when we're managing to create institutions like this?

The industry also just can't wait to talk to privacy advocates:
We also steadfastly support Americans’ right to privacy. And just like other new technologies such as cell phones, GPS and even social networking websites like “Facebook,” a reasonable conversation about the implications of a new technology is entirely appropriate. That is why AUVSI has fostered a dialogue with privacy advocates and civil liberties organizations to discuss how we can ensure Americans’ rights are protected as the use of this technology advances.
Drones are just like cellphones and Facebook! Once we've figured out how to get the government's spies out of my Facebook messages, then we'll tackle the nettlesome problem of those drones (What drones? I don't see any drones.).

When you've finished surfing and learning about all of the wonderful things that killer robots do when they are not busy killing people, you should try out Unmanned, a video game by Molleindustria, a radical game collective. Here's a Youtube preview:

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