Confronting Danger on a Digital Scale

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Drone Danger

We consistently introduce new technologies before we've figured out how to master and manage them. So we must scramble to stay safe from boneheads and bad guys.

The New York Times reports that drone racing is rapidly emerging as an extreme sport. Participants, who wear specialized goggles and view the action through vehicle-mounted cameras, traverse courses inside buildings or confined outdoor spaces—often for hefty awards and prizes.

The Star Wars-like view is in itself pretty cool. Check out this amazing video. Also, it's great that the budding sport has helped at least one participant featured in the report recover from a debilitating disease.

However, I'm sure it won't be long before others who are either less concerned with safety or don't want to bother with restrictions begin holding impromptu drag races or Formula 1 events in the sky—above businesses, houses, schools, etc. It also doesn't take a great deal of imagination to think about how things could go wrong.

Airports are increasingly reporting near-collisions with commercial aircraft, children are getting smacked on the head by errant drones, and firefighters are saying they're encountering hobby drones at brush fires that are interfering with their ability to put out the flames.

Even worse is the possibility of criminals, terrorists and nation-states using unmanned aerial vehicles—or next-generation nanobots when they fly off the drawing board—for bombings and assassinations. One prison inmate in Oklahoma recently attempted to smuggle contraband—hacksaw blades, super glue, a cell phone, cigarettes, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and other banned items—into the facility via an accomplice with a drone. Fortunately, the plan was foiled by authorities.

Actually, it's not the technology that's the problem; it's people using it. It's not as if anyone is inventing or introducing an entirely new category of crime, murder and mayhem. People have been doing dumb, vicious and dangerous things for centuries.

It's just that the stakes continue to ratchet up, and the potential for damage and death is multiplying exponentially in the digital age. It's also frightening to ponder a future that increasingly looks like a bad sci-fi flick.

Unfortunately, we consistently invent and introduce new technologies before we've figured out how to master and manage them. As a result, we must scramble to stay safe from knuckleheads and keep up with the bad guys.

With the current explosion of Internet of things (IoT) devices, including drones, expect a whole lot of new, disturbing dangers and trends in the months and years ahead. Personally, I hope I don't step outside my house to be greeted by a drone Grand Prix flying overhead.

This article was originally published on 2015-11-30
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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