Google exec. says no to private drones

A new technology, developed for government use, with still-unknown potential uses for the gathering and distribution of information and things should be strictly regulated and kept out of the hands of private citizens, said the guy who helped change the world with a new technology, developed for government use, with still-unknown potential uses for the gathering and distribution of information and things.

In an interview with James Ball of The Guardian, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt said he doesn’t think privately-owned drones should be allowed, and there should be an international treaty to that effect.

“You’re having a dispute with your neighbour,” he hypothesised. “How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”

Schmidt set out the trajectory of robotic warfare and considered whether it would be confined solely to national governments. “It’s probable that robotics becomes a significant component of nation state warfare,” he said.

“I’m not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratise the ability to fight war to every single human being.

Laying aside the blatant irony of a Google executive warning about the dangers of other people having too much access to private information (which The Guardian, to their great credit, raised with him), Schmidt seems to have an extremely narrow view of what Unmanned Aerial Systems can be used for.

“It’s got to be regulated. … It’s one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they’re doing, but have other people doing it … It’s not going to happen,” Schmidt said. Like many of his comments on the subject, this sounds like a compelling argument for gun control, but it’s a stretch to apply this to drones.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator. USAF Photo via Flickr.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator. USAF Photo via Flickr.

Schmidt seems to have a fairly limited view of what drones are. The word has become near-synonymous with the military’s fixed-wing craft which are used for surveillance and targeted missile strikes abroad.

Other uses of remotely-piloted aircraft could be as revolutionary in their fields as the Predator-style drone has been for asymmetrical warfare, though. The problem, Schmidt points out, is that these fields could include invasion of privacy, stalking, harassment, and – in some dystopian view of the future – citizen warfare.

It’d be hard to make a sound argument against any regulations against flying robots operating around private homes and public airports, but to take them out of the hands of private citizens as Schmidt suggests would deal a great blow to the world’s ability to innovate. From medicine delivery in Africa to taco delivery in the San Francisco bay area to crop spraying, unmanned aircraft, multiple industry experts have told me, have the potential to be the “next big thing.”

And Schmidt, who works at the top of Google, which was created when two enterprising entrepreneurs thought of a new way to use the internet – originally created for the Department of Defense – should see that.

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One thought on “Google exec. says no to private drones

  1. 'Rip' Long says:

    The applications beyond intelligence gathering and warfare are vastly positive. Experience should have taught us that knee jerk responses are rarely our best.

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