The right way to balance safety and innovation is to create a set of rules for commercial drones that depend on their size, use and so on. That is what happens in some countries: Canada, for instance, exempts small drones from regulatory oversight. The rules should also vary according to location, since surveying the outside of a building in a city is more hazardous than flying over a field. Japan recognises this. And requiring drone pilots to have experience flying manned aircraft is daft. Far better to say, as Britain and Australia do, that drone pilots need to be certified as competent to fly a drone.
Like any disruptive technology, commercial drones will hurt existing businesses. Some pilots will lose their jobs as more farmers and logistics firms use drones instead of hiring a helicopter or aircraft. The incumbents’ opposition to the drone industry is understandable. The FAA’s is not. It should take a more objective view, and free commercial drones.
When we do think about technology’s moral implications, we tend to think about what we do with a given technology. We might call this the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” approach to the ethics of technology. What matters most about a technology on this view is the use to which it is put. This is, of course, a valid consideration. A hammer may indeed be used to either build a house or bash someones head in. On this view, technology is morally neutral and the only morally relevant question is this: What will I do with this tool?
But is this really the only morally relevant question one could ask? For instance, pursuing the example of the hammer, might I not also ask how having the hammer in hand encourages me to perceive the world around me? Or, what feelings having a hammer in hand arouses?
6 of 40 questions applicable to the moral considerations of technology/objects/artifacts (all 40 are good)
- What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
- What habits will the use of this technology instill?
- How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
- How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?
- How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?
- How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to the world around me?
Every so often you find a magic word that allows you to find the information you’re looking for. For me recently that word has been “Constructionism” and it has led me to the work of Seymour Papert.
Papert’s constructionism has, at its heart, a desire not to revise, but to invert the world of curriculum-driven instruction. If there is one keystone concept from Papert that will forever set the teeth of educational administrators on edge, it is probably this, from “Mindstorms”:
Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong.’ But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting bugs … The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition we might all be less intimidated by our fears of ‘being wrong.’ – Seymour Papert
Papert was perhaps the first interaction designer especially concerned with digital tools and children. His awareness that children effectively think differently than adults, and that their cognitive evolution requires designing rich toolkits and environments rather than force-feeding knowledge, has set the tone for decades of research. The combination of developmental psychology, AI, and technology proved to be powerful and generative, and created a new genre of educational technologies. Papert was an inspirational force that motivated an entire generation of researchers and practitioners to bring his vision to the world. But the work is far from done. For example, why is it that half a century after these ideas were formulated, still we do not have robust forms of assessment by which to evaluate this vision?
Make no mistake: This is a geopolitical earthquake with a high reading on the Richter scale. Throughout history, political and military power have always depended on economic power. Britain was the workshop of the world before she ruled the waves. And it was Britain’s relative economic decline that preceded the collapse of her power.
And it was a similar story with previous hegemonic powers such as France and Spain.
This will not change anything tomorrow or next week, but it will change almost everything in the longer term. We have lived in a world dominated by the U.S. since at least 1945 and, in many ways, since the late 19th century. And we have lived for 200 years — since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 — in a world dominated by two reasonably democratic, constitutional countries in Great Britain and the U.S.A. For all their flaws, the two countries have been in the vanguard worldwide in terms of civil liberties, democratic processes and constitutional rights.
“Those who hold a legal monopoly on violence should be held to the highest standards for its use, not the lowest.” – Ramez Naam