SOAPBOX

★ ★ ★ ★

Too Dumb for the Technosphere

By Mike Hembury

We live in a tech world. Most of us are to some extent tech junkies. Phones, internet, gaming, TV, we love all that shit.

Take me. I don’t really bother to navigate my way around town anymore when I’m driving. I just switch on my phone and let it do the thinking for me.

What the hell? It’s no big deal.

And if that means Google, and by extension the state, knows exactly where I am at all hours of the day, so what? That’s the deal. That’s the payoff. I get a little knick-knack that tells me where to go and they get a whole heap of personal data.

It’s not like it’s intrusive or anything.

It’s more like a redefinition of privacy. As soon as you interface with tech, it interfaces with you. It’s so subtle, we don’t even notice it any more.

A friend of mine works with what used to be called juvenile delinquents – kids who’ve had a run-in with the law. And she told me that when they’re doing their petty crime thing, most of them get caught because they’re too dumb to turn off their smart phones, or leave them at home.

Well don’t ask me. I’m too dumb for that too.

Of course, it’s an insidious process, this whole explosion of the technosphere. But I did have a kind of an aha-moment recently, when I was reading about one of the regular mass shootings in the States. It was back in the summer, in Dallas, when a black former member of the US army decided the best response to the spate of police killings of black people was to start killing white people, and specifically, police officers. It came to a standoff. Five police officers were killed, seven injured. The situation was understandably fraught, extreme, and politically highly charged.

The Dallas police department however, came up with a novel way of dealing with the situation. They sent in a bomb-disposal robot. But this robot was not about to defuse any bomb. It was carrying one.

The result was, effectively, the first non-military remote execution by robot in the history of the world.

Of course, we’re getting used to the idea of Amazon wittering on about delivering stuff by drone. And we are more or less inured to the way that the US and friends take out the bad guys, plus a few civilian weddings, via drone in those dry hot places over in the east somewhere.

But having justice delivered by remotely controlled device, that is certainly a step, a development.

I guess, in trigger-happy America, no-one is really going to question the legality of the killing. But it certainly seems to be in a grey zone, at least. Like, can the operator of the robot claim that he or she was acting in self-defence?

Anyway, I don’t really want to get into that particular can of worms.

The point I want to make is that there never really was a technology that the military didn’t try to find a use for. And that once the military have started using it, it’s not long before it becomes part of the more general state arsenal.

Take drones, for example.

There is a South African firm called “Desert Wolf”, that produce a drone called a “Skunk Riot Control Copter”. In addition to strobe lights and “blinding lasers”, the device is also armed with4,000 pepper-spray paintballs, plastic balls or other “non-lethal” ammunition and can fire up to 80 balls per second from its four gun barrels, “stopping any crowd in its tracks”.

Prospective customers for this fascinating piece of kit include international mining operations worried about keeping their workers in line. In fact, the company explicitly says that the drone is designed with the aim of “preventing another Marikana” in mind.

Marikana was a protest by South African mineworkers in 2012 during which 34 strikers were shot and killed by police.

So now the police don’t even need to be involved. The mining company can just send out a few skunks and pepper-spray the crowd into submission.

Now doesn’t that seem like a humane solution to the problem of worker unrest?

Of course, things start to get really funky when you factor in the idea of semi-autonomous drone swarms, which is currently a major development focus for the US military[1].

So how about this for a scenario: it’s a couple of years down the line. The ongoing slo-mo train crash that is western democracy finally goes off the rails. People are getting really pissed off. Mass demonstrations are the order of the day. Enter, stage right, a swarm of crowd control drones equipped with the facial recognition technology that Zuckerberg & co. have been perfecting for years. Scan the crowd. Take out the protagonists based on their dubious social media profiles. Colour-code them: red for activist, blue for vandal, green for hand-held media, whatever. Oh, and pepper-spray them. And maybe stick in a few rounds of non-lethal plastic bullets for good measure.

And the nice thing about it?

You can go and have a coffee while the robots sort it out for themselves.

[1] http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2015/August/Pages/MarineCorpsDevelopingLowCostRobotSwarmstoCounterEnemyDrones.aspx

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/04/navy-preparing-launch-swarm-bots-out-cannons/110167/

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England.  He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order.  You can check out some of Mike’s music projects here:
www.miserlou.de
www.balkonians.de
www.skarabaeus-berlin.de