Around two decades ago, the world population was given a technology that no one knew would change the mankind forever! It changed how we live, interact, work and play. Today for most people a world without it is inconceivable. Though initially this technology was simple and its use was rather limited but in a short span of time it evolved in to a technology which penetrated in every aspect of human existence. Unfortunately, this amazing technology that we call INTERNET came without any predefined laws and limitations. While initially most people did not know what to do with it, there were some who were able to see its true potential. What people saw as a simple communication channel was just tip of the iceberg. An alternate development was taking place underground. US Defense R&D was looking at its military use while the criminals were exploring its dark potentials. What no one at that point was aware of was that this would eventually become a borderless cyber world. An alternate reality that will connect people from all over the world, a communication tool that will be so powerful that it will be able to start revolutions and topple regimes.
Today our world, our economies, our banking systems, our stock markets, our defense technologies, education, research and social lives, everything relies heavily on INTERNET. We benefit from it immensely but at the same time it has presented us with a new set of problems like over communication, obsessive communication, cyber crimes, cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, invasion of privacy, cyber-bullying, high stress lives and many other issues that we as a gradually evolved species were not designed to cope with. INTERNET to some extent has gone out of control!
Like any new technology INTERNET should have been gradually released to the public after thorough testing with proper guidelines and laws on its use. Copyright and media laws should have been redesigned for electronic content that would be shared online and offline. Use of the technology should have been controlled through centrally managed accounts using licensing systems (on the lines of other communication technologies) based on individuals recorded identity credentials, minimum age limit should have been a major criteria, etc. Unfortunately INTERNET was allowed to evolve in an unrestricted and an unchecked manner since the day it was made public.
Today we are seeing another technology being unleashed to the public domain which is far more deadly and destructive than the INTERNET. This technology is being designed to literally replace humans eventually. Based on artificial intelligence (A.I.), it will have the capacity (and eventually authority) to make critical decisions on which human lives might be dependent. I am talking about Drones.
For ten years now USA has been using armed UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to target “enemies” while sitting thousands of miles away. Although so far these drones have a human pilot sitting at a remote location with the trigger in hand, soon a new generation of drones may be introduced which might fire upon targets at its own will based on its pre-programmed information and real-time AI logic. It may track its target for days and weeks to assess if the target is a threat and based on this collected information it may engage the target by surprise. Can we allow a non-human to take human life? What I have described above may not be a scenario from very distant future. With the rapid development in drones technology and A.I. this might happen sooner that we can imagine.
But just like the unchecked evolution of INTERNET technology that we have witnessed earlier, drones might be another Frankenstein which we may be unleashing in the public domain. With the “success” of armed drones being used by CIA / US military to eliminate enemy in “preemptive” strikes, potential of drones and drone related technology seems bright and economically viable. Already other uses of drones are being assessed by individuals and R&D firms. From simple surveillance drones to assassin drones are being designed and tested across the world. Unfortunately it won’t be long before this technology reaches the hands of terrorists and other criminals. The consequences of such a lethal technology in the hands of militant groups would be disastrous. Although long range drones rely on satellite communication but already a demo has been given of a technology that enables person to control a drone using an iPhone halfway across the world.
In today’s world owning a smartphone with an ultra fast INTERNET connection is not an issue. With over simplified mobile application development frameworks for smartphones and other connected mobile devices like tablets and iPads building a remote control system for drones is almost child’s play. Just imagine if a low cost drone fitted with some cameras, a gun or an explosive warhead controlled by a mobile device becomes a standard tool of trade for terrorists! With passage of time just like the INTERNET, this drone technology would become more and more sophisticated, advanced hackers might hack into communication satellites to hijack military drones (Iran has supposedly already downed a US spy drone by hacking into it). Just like the INTERNET, whenever there will be a smart programmer making drones and drone related technology safer, there will always be some underground hacker breaking into that secure system... only this time people will lose more than their personal information and money!
And what about drones for rent / lease? As private security companies become more and more engaged at higher levels (Blackwater), their services might be availed by countries that do not possess drone technology. Underground high-tech groups might start emerging providing their services and drone hardware to other terrorist and militant outfits. Even individuals might use drones for espionage and assassinations. Just like the INTERNET drones offer unlimited possibilities which are both positive and negative. What we can do is learn a lesson from INTERNET evolution and ensure that drone and its related technology and its use is covered by proper laws that apply internationally and maximum security precaution should be taken in time to minimize its negative impact. Humans are an amazing species and as we are evolving, impact of our actions on this planet and the universe is becoming greater and greater, therefore, we must ensure that we are remembered as protectors and not destroyers.