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Morton Bast

editorial coordinator, TED


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Which application of drones excites or terrifies you the most?

We're dedicating this week on TED.com to the buzz about autonomous drones, with their tremendous power to assist us and their entirely lethal power to harm us.

Throughout Drone Week, we're hoping to give a nuanced picture of the current state of intelligent machines. Looking to experts in the field for their hopes and fears, as well as their hard data, we're taking a look at what the future may bring.

We're also asking the broader TED Community to weigh in. Are drones on your mind? In what capacity? Are you more excited about their research and rescue capabilities or more terrified by their potential for strikes and surveillance? What about drones has truly sparked your imagination?

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    Nov 20 2013: Technology does not seem to impress me any more. Especially, technology used to kill people.

    I think, drones used to "fight terrorism" created more terrorists than they killed. I'm concerned not about the lethal capability of the drones, but about the effect they have on global society.
    • Nov 20 2013: All technology has been used to kill people.
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        Nov 21 2013: Bryan, That speaks more about the people than the technology. The bow was just as good at downing a deer for food and survival as it was for the quest for wealth, land, and power. I can use the knife to cleave the meat from the bone or to take the life of a person .... etc.

        Technology is neither good or bad least we make it so. Bob.
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      Nov 20 2013: I definitely agree. I myself don't understand the logic behind how we have been using drones to "fight terrorism." As if the military operations on the ground were not enough, it appears that we are innovating new ways of fueling hatred, and creating more reasons for individuals to match violence with violence.

      Don't get me wrong, I definitely can see that there are great ways for drone technology to be applied. However, I definitely don't think that weaponizing this technology is a significant benefit.
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        Nov 21 2013: “Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”

        ― Noam Chomsky

        I don't see how assassinating people with drones in foreign countries potentially causing the "collateral" deaths of civilians is, in principle, different from flying airplanes into buildings.
        • Nov 21 2013: And this means that we should not use drones to monitor ecologically sensitive areas, do civilian search-and-rescue by legitimate police/safety organizations, etc?
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          Nov 21 2013: It is interesting that Noam makes this quote since he was raised Jewish. So the Allied Forces should never have questioned the Nazi reign of terror on the ethnic groups of Europe.

          One of the most shallow and insensitive comments ever ..... I know Noam is the hero of the liberal and atheist following .... but this cannot even defended.

          Disgusting .....
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        Nov 21 2013: @ Brian re: "And this means that we should not use drones to monitor ecologically sensitive areas, do civilian search-and-rescue by legitimate police/safety organizations, etc?"

        Not sure how this follows from my comment. What I said means that we should not use drones or any other technology to kill people. I'm not against technology. I'm against killing people.
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        Nov 21 2013: @ Robert Re: "So the Allied Forces should never have questioned the Nazi reign of terror on the ethnic groups of Europe. One of the most shallow and insensitive comments ever ..... I know Noam is the hero of the liberal and atheist following .... but this cannot even defended."

        Well, I myself struggle with the concept of "turning the other cheek" and "loving the enemy". Who doesn't? I still believe that there is hidden wisdom in these concepts. "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind". I like Gandhi's and MLK's philosophy of non-violent resistance to evil better than the approach of Malcolm X who advised "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery."

        Of course, we can take things to extreme and consider examples of Hitler, Assad, or the Sandy Hook shooter. There is also saying "the ends justify the means".

        I think, blanket statements on this issue cannot be made. Each case needs specific consideration. There are cases when I would approve the use of drones to kill a person, e.g. to kill terrorists on the scene of the terrorist act to save people like in the Kenyan mall massacre or the recent rebelion in Algeria. But the morality of routine use of drones to assassinate people from "Desposition Matrix" list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disposition_Matrix) in cold blood is highly questionable to me.
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        Nov 21 2013: @ Brian & Robert.

        Let me be specific. I disapprove routine using of drones for cold-blooded premeditated assassination of people in non-emergency situations. You can establish the context of these statements from these articles

        Let's not mix other contexts into what I said - fighting violent regimes, civillian rescue operations, fixing deep-water oil spills and flaming nuclear reactors, or hostage situations.

        I would note that technology is irrelevant in this discussion. It does not matter whether we use a kitchen knife to slit throats or use sophisticated multi-million dollar equipment to kill people in an air strike. This is what I meant in my original post that "I'm not impressed with technology used to kill people." Perhaps, I should rephrase a little, "I'm not impressed with technology WHEN it is used to kill people."

        Oh, boy... Why is it so hard for people to understand each other? The more we say, the more confused we are. Saying less does not help either. Silence is golden. I think, I should not have raised this topic at all.
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    Nov 28 2013: -
    This question make me recall an episode of The Good Wife .
    It's a case about a woman used a drone to kill the taget in Arab area , perhaps . However there were some innocent people around the car(the enemy ,target is the car) ,not only a few adults but children.
    The soldier , female was been accused of 12 murders .
    We both know these damage are inescapable during the war , and the true reason for the charge is the female soldier , her colleague want to replace her , again sexism ,gender discrimination.
    Though after a battle of arguing in the military court, the woman was still convicted in original charge .

    This may not be a real event .but, Well, what I'm concerned with this is we have a lot of different electronic equipments today , we can use them to commit a crime ,or we can use them to crime some people with unwarranted reason .

    We all know that we have already , in a non-secret society , I mean in a larger perception ,not a relationship in personal .
    For government ,they can gather anything whatever, whenever they want . We all be recorded in data from server.
    You can say I'm a radical person in this question and I'm too pessimistic about cyber security .
    Nevertheless , I believe that is the truth .
    You can see the influsce of Snowden leaking the "information " , I don't judge the property of this behavior .
    I just want to say information will become more cheap but important in the future ,it will become easier to get , but vital in any aspect .

    So what I afraid is these kind of data how to be use , I'm not afraid of how to be recorded because this worry is useless , science will not stop booming cause it genertate damage , the only way we can use its the law and the better use in technology .

    There was a sentence in Chinese :欲加之罪 何患无辞。
    means : if you want to condemn somebody , you can always find out a charge .
    And the "drones "make the finding easier .
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    • Nov 20 2013: Thank you Mark. All life is reflected through each heart, each pool of consciousness. As Ghandi put it, we must BE that which we want to see in the world. That is always the bottom line, and you are right, can be terrifying, but also liberating.

      I wonder about how to use modern toys to expand interest and support for this very process of turning the attention to self/relation to whole... without trappings of any particular traditions, ... do you have thoughts on how to encourage more self-reflection towards personal responsibility in regards to larger issues and conditions?
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        • Nov 20 2013: yep, living paradox. I was not actually asking you or anyone else to tell me or anybody else anything about what to do-aakk! I agree completely with everything you have said about personal responsibility (sorry, language choices give wrong impression, did not mean "larger" to imply more important at all-just different reference point... and "encourage" a poor choice as well... "support a choice" perhaps).

          I have argued myself silly with this existential argument of 'what is the point of action in the world, people/I just keep doin- but part of our collective vision and evolution seems to entail, require(?) journey in form, this community of interactions/choices/consequences/learning- in which each of us are both uniquely singular/inextricably connected as part of the Whole. While taking responsibility is a 100% inside job, learning to do so involves our involvement in the game we have created. While Ghandi practiced his own inner game, he also modeled his insights and practices in "outer work" to support a Peace movement, stand up against poverty, etc- would you say his "outer" works were wasted activity? I'm very aware that in Truth, we ARE doing exactly what we want, but learning to take that information into our own inner sanctum of taking responsibility, making different choices, is a journey, and as anyone's evolutionary interests awaken, whether it begin by being focused on 'outer' or 'inner', i'm just saying we do support/influence each other in that inquiry, and how new tech could be utilized in new creative ways to that end was my question.

          If we did not want to/were not meant to interact through form for our own liberation, I don't think we'd be here doing that. After all, you are here sharing your views- to what end, if you believe this to be of no import? Clearly not to coerce, but what about shining Light into a corner someone else looking cannot see yet, except for you sharing/modeling your experience in some way? no expectations attached!
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    Nov 18 2013: Just like all the technologies -new or old- it depends on the man. Drones can let drop bombs on you, but also are capable to carry a lifebelt for a person who is drowning into a tempest sea and nobody dares to swim for help. If we use them for evil or for good, it's our choice.
    We, humans, have plenty of technologies for killing, so, I prefer to watch the good ones: fire surveillance, help to people in trouble, watching properties or security uses, and so on.
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    Nov 30 2013: The voting drones are terrifying
  • Nov 30 2013: I think a safe use of drone technology is Local News Departments. Think of Los Angeles car chases being followed by drones. Or reporters, at the news desk while a remote viewing drone is circling the job site accident, car accident, depleted lakes caused by drought, train wrecks, burning buildings etc. Real estate is another non lethal use, million dollar properties or large ranges. Oil companies in the shale plays are probably the first adopters to monitor wells and environmental damage. State governments will use them to plan highway construction or repair. Fleets can use them when accidents happen to be first on scene as well as police and fire. Imagine the fire department in your city at first 911 call dispatches a drone, the crew gets real time assessments in route. etc
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    Nov 23 2013: What took FedEx Freight 5 days to do (ship a 300 lb snow sweeper from Eugene, Oregon to my door step in Swan River, Manitoba) which was fast in the developed world, now imagine doing it in hours with a 'Matternet' of drones in the future anywhere in the world ... http://www.ted.com/talks/andreas_raptopoulos_no_roads_there_s_a_drone_for_that.html?source=facebook#.UpDNpwC-sN9.facebook
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    Nov 23 2013: this is just another face of the science and technology that will save us, if we are to be saved, despite our politicians and business interests. But, there will be a dark side - business abuse, military abuse, multiple unintended consequences. Imagine a gigantic swarm of self-replicating rapidly learning micro-drones with distributed AI, given a mission. But what mission? This, along with many other technologies, most advancing at an accelerating pace, makes me think that it is plausible the world will spin completely out of control...
  • Nov 22 2013: I believe it was put best in Michael Crichton's book about technology being used without any sort of disclipline being necessary. These drones will be used for nefarious purposes, history has taught us that. While we in the U.S. tend to think that our "leaders" would never do that, we are being naive. I forsee a world where you are watched from the moment you leave your house, a very scary thought.
  • Nov 20 2013: Drones excite Americans but terrify the innocent villagers living in their homeland and are targeted so bluntly.
    • Nov 20 2013: I did not know that a petroleum spill in an ecologically sensitive area in the Gulf of Mexico was "innocent villagers". Silly me! I thought it was pollution.
  • Gord G 50+

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    Nov 20 2013: Party drones terrify me. They'll corner you by the guacamole dip and drone on about the minutiae of a Jersey Shore episode.

    Military drones could be exciting. Everyone stays home and the drones destroy each other.
    • Nov 20 2013: That is now how military drones would work. Drones would not target each other except incidentally. Drones would target humans. Bombers in WWII did not concentrate on bombing other bombers.
      • Nov 20 2013: I debated putting a smile after my comment, but I thought the previous comment made it clear my comments were satirical.

        Unfortunately, war isn't war until people die (whether it's by a stone club or a drone).
  • Nov 18 2013: Drones are another wonderful tech toy development, for sure. The possibilities for use? Likely endless, certainly a full range of positive or negative. As others have already pointed out, use always depends on the user. A lot of humans, certainly most governments, still seems bent on maintaining fear and judgement of one another... confrontation, trying to control others for ones own agenda of control, power, greed often masked as defense, or spreading democracy or the "faith". In the hands of "super-powers" with super egos and super financing... extraordinarily dangerous, completely lacking in ethics, compassion. Their expanding behaviors leave me ashamed and deeply saddened. But in the hands of people wanting to track the health patterns of the planet in very explicit ways, this is remarkable. For all the positive potentials, drones can be a remarkable, positive tool. I believe, as with all tech developments, their use will depend on humans becoming remarkable at loving life enough to stop fearing and killing it. If we continue to behave as a bad virus, then more technology will only hasten our illness.
  • Nov 18 2013: Drones are being tested on the Gulf Coast of Texas for tracking oil spills and surveying ecologically sensitive areas. They can cover a lot of territory and get as low as they need to get. They only have to be recalled to refuel or maintain. In theory, they can run around the clock because changing the crew doesn't require recalling the drone. They do have valid peaceful use.
  • Nov 18 2013: This is a great conversation because I believe drones are a double edged sword. In some instances they can be used for extreme good, such as delivering medical supplies to areas that are difficult to access otherwise e.g. war torn countries. On the opposite end of the spectrum they could be devastating to society. Drones offer people the power without risk, which gives them a God like sense of power. With good will always come bad, but in this case does the good out way the bad or vice versa? To more directly answer the question, I think the use of drones for good excites me beyond belief, but the thought of this technology in the hands of evil people completely terrifies me.
  • Nov 17 2013: First, drones are just a tool. Any tool can be exploited.

    I think drones could be used to monitor traffic patterns in real time. Help with weather prediction and tracking. And definitely search and rescue - especially when fitted with infra-red or high tech cameras.

    I could see them used to deliver supplies to a localized incident such as a traffic accident, natural disaster or fire.

    Drones could also be equipped with WiFi or Micro Cell technology to increase bandwidth in an emergency situation.

    I would like to have a personal drone. It would save me trips running things my kids forgot to take to school.
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    Nov 29 2013: Technology is usually at the mercy of the mind of the man using it.
    If the heart is right, the acts will be right.
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    JB E

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    Nov 28 2013: The obvious scenarios for fearing this technology like the use in war and in surveillance are going to be played out and resolved eventually. I am more interested in the uses that are far more significant and maybe less known but perhaps feared in a different way than the obvious.

    The one use that I am most enthusiastic about is the use of the technology in automating our cars and traffic. Most people don't see it but the technology is most useful in this application, by turning our cars into drone like vehicles it frees us from so much that affects us detrimentally every day. If you look at statistics of human fatalities car accidents top this list, more people die in car accidents than most care to think about and yet we still don't treat this plague at its cause. Human error accounts for this death toll and it cannot be mitigated with new laws, existing laws, seat belts or photo enforced traffic lights, people will always use poor judgement and make mistakes. However the technology is here to take all this away by augmenting vehicles with drone technology we can significantly decrease death toll, the work force in traffic enforcement time and money, as well as the time spent in rush hour commuting and loss of productivity. I even go as far to say this tech if used properly may cut carbon footprint of automotive traffic as well as cut down on congestion and air pollution in inner city s.

    With all this being said the only way is for everyone to give up a little of their freedom to control their own vehicles and to embrace the technology as a whole. It's easy to say this but I bet it's impossible to commit people to this and honestly I don't know why. We are so happy to see this scenario in futuristic sci fi movies so why not jump right in now that the technology is here? The population of our planet is forcing us to think more for the collective good than individual freedoms, the time is now to accept this fact.
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    Nov 28 2013: Drones scare me. Just a few thoughts:
    Human disconnection from reality (dropping bombs while having a cup of coffee in some container 5000 km away).
    So called 'intelligent' drones that can pick out targets without human intervention.
    That's scary stuff...

    Drones spying on evey single human being (because that seems to be the dream scenario for those who 'govern' us, and they're working hard to do just that) to me are yet another form of giving up freedom and give more control to our governments.

    I don't believe in being more safe by giving up our privacy. No privacy = No civil liberty = No freedom
    We're just giving up our freedom because our governments use scare-tactics on it's own people. They scare us, telling us by giving up our freedom, we will be free (...). People have to take responsibility to make their own environment safe.
  • Nov 26 2013: I do not fear drones at all. I have nothing to hide from the government. I think drones are excellent on the battlefield and at home. On the battlefield most importantly they save lives. At home, companies like UPS and FedEx are trying to get the FAA approval so they can use them to deliver packages. My one concern about drones is that they will take away jobs
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  • Nov 25 2013: The use of drones for war & crime worries me the most.

    What sparked my imagination about drones (after thinking of all the possibilities drones open up for persons that are disabled), was how the families & friends of persons that are disabled will have more freedom & less responsibility.
  • Nov 24 2013: I don't fear the drones nor do I fear how they might be used to hurt humanity. What I am concerned with is the failure of American Public Schools to recognize and accept drone technology. Years ago (1980's) I was a school board member. Our district was avoiding the introduction of computers to the curriculum. Sounds crazy today doesn't it? We had one board member who would not step into a classroom if it contained a computer (Apple II) He said there was no telling the damage that might be done to students who were exposed to a computer. For Kent a computer was an unknown creature. Waiting to attack our children.
    This is what I fear the most. Persons who only see technology as endangering humanity. Oh yes, that fear does exist. Our educational curriculum is based and operated on fear of the unknown future. We trust the past because we think
    we understand it. We educate for the supposed safety of history and fear what might happen to humanity if technology (drones) is allowed to flourish.
    But what must a child know and understand to just live 15 years from today? What wonderful and valuable things will be fathered by drone technology?
    Doubt me? Just read the comments on this posting. Do you see fear or hope?
  • Nov 24 2013: The ability of an enemy to use the drone to supply a bacteria-ological disease to our country. The drone being so small, it is difficult to detectand can carry a deadly message. So of a few hundred only one needs to get through.
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    Nov 24 2013: There seems to be some fear of drones. Where does it come from?

    I think, one reason is that few people understand how they work. Aren't most new technologies met by the public with the same kind of caution and fear. (Raliroad, automobiles, airplanes).

    Another reason, prehaps, is unjustified association of drones with spying, "war on terror", etc. Drones don't have to be associated with these things. They can be very useful and fun in everyday life.

    Third, perhaps, people are afraid of their own power. Humanity seems to have this lust and continuous quest for power to do things. But there is also fear that power will be misused. There is the same kind of anxiety around gun control issue.

    I think, once a technology becomes possible, no matter how dangerous, it will be created and used. There is no question about it in my mind. Instead of trying to ban a technology, it seems to be wiser to learn how to use it. This, perhaps, applies to many other things like stem research or human cloning, for example. Electromechanical devices seem far less scary to me than biochemical technology. A lot of biochemical technology is invisible and have much greater potential to get out of control.
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      Nov 28 2013: I think the dangers pretty much overweights the fun part. I agree there are other technologies than electromechanical that sound more scary, but imagine this:
      A drone, flown by artificial intelligent software, carrying dangerous biological substances. Just throw them in the mix and yet another thing to be afraid of. So then use more drones to spy on everyone, reducing even more our civil liberty aka freedom..
      I agree totally that we should technology wise, the problem is 'we' don't have access to these technologies; criminals, governments and big coorporations do.
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        Nov 28 2013: Re: "I think the dangers pretty much overweights the fun part."

        Isn't this because you focus on dangers rather than benefits? Doesn't fear that "something will go wrong" often stand in the way of trying new things and, ultimately, progress?
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          Nov 28 2013: Yes it could be i'm pessimistic here, but I try to look at it realistic at the same time. I believe the money spent on developing this technology (mainly for military purposes) can be much better spent on other technologies where, in my opinion, the fun part overweights the dangers somewhat more. I also believe that we will continue to see progress without drones.

          If the development of the nuclear bomb would have stopped, I'm sure we wouldn't have certain knowledge we have now, but at the same time a lot less tension in general (I'm guessing ;) )

          I do see a lot of positive applications in the use of drones, but sofar it seems that this particular technology is mainly being utilized in ways I'm not so comfortable with.

  • Nov 24 2013: THE SCARY PART OF DRONE



  • Nov 24 2013: My main mistrust regarding 'robotics' is that they can leave one with little privacy ...maybe 'transparency' is the way to go. Where there are fewer SECRETS in the world, we might be much better off. People will HELP each other rather than want to destroy the world and become over-powerful and over zealous.
    There are so many positives however, that perhaps, with common sense, they can be used to prevent wars and religious intolerance - they can be used to check out the problems in the world's need for conservation - best of all, right now they can be the medical help for those people who are bedridden - for the sick and needy ... I LOVE TED community ... congratulations to all directors, producers cinematographers and all those involved in these fantastic productions.
  • Nov 24 2013: I was at a security talk recently (computers, not drones) and a very interesting outlook was brought up. Privacy (in computers) is not so much about how much information you trust a company with, it is how much you trust the company. For example, the government has our social security numbers, tax information, history.. but they have checks and balances in places that we (more or less grudgingly) accept.. at least to the point where we trust them not to sell that information. A police officer can ask for our drivers license and insurance information, someone at the supermarket is allowed to see our credit card numbers (but not billing information), Amazon sees more..

    In the context of drones the biggest ongoing fear seems to be privacy from government and from each other... so in a way it seems like the fear would be best addressed with transparency and (I hate the following word) legislation. To be crude for a moment (I apologize), 'revenge porn' wen through a burst for a period of time as technology outpaced privacy and legislation, and then was brought back under control. The same thing can be done with drones. And I think one of the big things we want is the idea of being allowed to misbehave just a little (speed on the roads at night, go buy fireworks we aren't supposed to have in our state, etc), as long as we aren't hurting anyone without consent. So my fear (echoed in 1984) is that we all have to start following laws never expected / designed to be fully enforced, because suddenly we become fully visible. My greatest hope is that we step up (like we did with the Internet - NSA scandal not withstanding) and use this to protect wildlife, give vision to first responders, and yes use these in combat to spare the lives of troops (but fine-tune the process). Oh, and that I can have a Parrot 2, write some software, and use the camera to stage mock aerial dogfights with my friends.
  • Nov 23 2013: As many here have acknowledged, technologies themselves are politically and morally neutral, and it is only their application and our value-judgements that lend them these dimensions.
    That said, the accelerating rate of technological progress raises the stakes; delivering more and more power into the hands of those able to wield the latest tools and weapons. This, coupled with the fact that the early adopters of each new technology tend to be predominantly western military or big business interests – both of which can afford to be major research funders – tends to concentrate and reinforce power in these areas.
  • Nov 23 2013: Drones is another face of science and technology that can be used in any research field including spying on criminals. However, they must be used according to human rights norms and international laws. No one can use them indiscriminately to show superiority and to save a claimed threat.