Many of us are afraid of the development of drone technology in the army which regularly allows the US and Israeli Army to assassinate people without having to deploy a single man on a foreign territory. It is now well known that during the last ten years, the limits between Western police services and armies have increasingly became blurry both in the methods and in the equipment, the former requiring often the help or teaching of the latter. In this regard, I highly recommend the excellent coverage of Occupy Wall Street by Democracy Now on November 17th 2011. Amy Goodman indeed invited both the always excellent Stephen Graham and the former Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper to discuss about what she called Paramilitary policing.
It is relatively clear that it is simply a matter of time before national security drones would be implemented in Western cities (see the short pseudo-documentary I wrote last summer). On July 14th 2006, a drone (probably a prototype) was seen in the sky of Paris’ suburbs (see previous post) as what was probably a first real scale test of surveillance.
However, resistance against this quasi-irreversible movement towards a robotic management of national security seems to organize using the very same technology. In December 2010, some Iraqi insurgents managed to hack the video transmission of an American Drone (see previous post). On a more fictitious level, in 2009, Tim Maly was writing The Lost Drone Army which dramatizes the complete autonomy of a group of drones that escaped from the control of their former masters.
More recently, and on a not so fictitious level, Liam Young created now forms of drones, entitled Electronic Counter-Measures, within the context of his Tomorrow Thoughts Today (with Darryl Chen) and Unknown Fields Division (with Kate Davies) and in collaboration with Eleanor Saitta, Oliviu Lugojan-Ghenciu (see his GravityOne project and his guest writer essay on this blog), and Superflux. Their drones, inspired by the internet national blackout organized by Hosni Mubarak in January 2011 in order to prevent the Egyptian revolution to organize itself, provides a wireless internet signal to whoever is in their radius of action. The idea is to be able for a crowd to coordinate its action via the internet provided by these autonomous drones even though the dominant power would have shut the network down.
I am usually a little bit on the fence when one needs to address the relationship between revolution and technology which lead many people to naively attribute the success of the various Arab Spring revolutions to tools like facebook or twitter. The very fact that the Egyptian revolution occurred precisely while the internet was shut down is a good argument in favor of such skepticism. Another argument consists in recognizing that this same technology is rarely own and used by the lowest social classes who should be at the heart of revolutionary movements.
However, one has to recognize that a tremendous amount of people in the world owns a mobile phone, fact that would have probably seemed completely illusory few decades ago. Liam’s project therefore registers itself in a near future in which the access to internet on a mobile apparatus would be more generalized than what it currently is. The very fact that his team managed to build-up those four drones and make them operative in November 2011 forces us to be optimistic in the proliferation of resistive drones.
Around the same time, in Warsaw during on Polish Independence Day (Nov 11), a talented handyman managed to film the anti-riot police movements from the air by setting up a camera on a RoboKopter drone, providing incredibly useful footing for protesters in the streets. For having experienced it by myself, I can definitely see the use we could have made from it during the Occupy march (I should say race) during which we escaped to the control of the police for about twenty minutes before being eventually caught back (see previous article). To see this footage, watch the two following videos.
Read more about Electronic Counter-Measures on Tomorrow Thoughts Today (in the slow thoughts section) and on Co.Design (article by Mark Wilson). To go further in this topic, see the very recent reportage Al Jazeera released about the US Army’s robots at war.