25 years ago, the film ‘Toys’ was released in the US, where a toy manufacturer starts developing war toys to sell to the military, much to the dismay of his family. Although the film was a financial flop, it was one of the first mentions of drones in popular culture.
The first form of drone, or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), dates back to early 1900s, developed primarily for practice targets for training the military. But the trajectory of drones quickly moved towards targeting “enemies” as unpiloted, explosive torpedoes were built during the First World War. Now drones can be developed to be piloted from further away, be triggered faster and cause more destruction on the “enemy”. Even their names, ‘Reaper’ and ‘Predator’ for example, present them as fast and fatal. But do these developments mirror something much darker for humanity; a devaluation of human life?
The development of machine weaponry dates back to 1364 – the year the gun was invented. In these days we could see a relatively-even fight: firstly because both are aware of the location of their enemy, and second because they have a largely equal chance of wounding and killing the other. Even before weaponry, there would be physical fighting – which remains a popular sport today.
With drone technology, the proximity of attacker and target is increased. The equality in combat is reduced. And, with these things, the emotion is removed and the lives of the military drone pilots are set up as more valuable than the civilians living in the countries targeted.
An algorithm determines the location hit. John Naughton compares the system’s technology (dubbed ‘Skynet’) to a spam filter on emails, but “if your filter gets it wrong, then the worst that can happen is that you are annoyed or amused by its clumsiness.” Furthermore, there is a risk that the spatial detachment from the land that soldiers attack leads to the target being isolated and “othered”, as well as an emotional detachment. As the pilot only receives images from the drone, the pilot is detached from the reality of its depictions. The proliferation of wartime video gaming amongst younger generations is also said to mean that younger soldiers become morally detached from their fatal actions because of the simulation of video gaming within drone piloting. Time is removed to contemplate the severity of their actions, and with this comes the removal of a period for reflection, meaning mistakes are more common with rectification out of the question.
As legislation to limit drone use is constantly dismissed – from the ‘Drone Accountability Act’ in 2013 to make the Department of Defense ‘report to Congress’ unable to be ratified to Obama’s drone policies in 2013 not being enforced in reality, and with a number of ‘waivers’ making policies on drone limitation worthless – drone warfare seems like the inevitable future. The trajectory of these man-made machines allows death to be enacted with no requirement for a moral agenda and hazy accountability, demonstrating a potential devaluation of human life; specifically the lives of those residing in targeted countries, regardless of their innocence.