Drones are Scary

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans    For their Scorpio birthdays, mi companera and mi hija both got robots.  They aren’t really robots in the “Star Wars” sense.  The name of this thing though is Shark-Ion Robot, although the generic name I gather is “roomba,” and Shark is just what this one in my house is called.  In the way that we think of devices as labor-saving, this thing qualifies.  It regularly runs around the floor of our house from room to room doing something that I guess we should call vacuuming.

Supposedly, it can also find its way back to its charging station, because it is powered by a battery.  It does all of this somewhat on its own.  I can hear it bumping into things now in another room.  I’m glad it’s there, because minutes ago it was bumping into the chair where I am sitting as I type this on my non-robotic computer.  Sometimes, it gets stuck and beeps, which is the equivalent of a robot whine.  I had to get up just then to unwedge it between the couch and a chair leg.  It was crying both “clean” and “dock.”  I’m not knocking it.  My people love the little thing.  On the other hand, my daughter made an excellent point when they were comparing notes, when she noted, “it’s not as smart as you’d think it would be.”  That’s the point, I’m getting at.

It’s basically a ground-drone with no one controlling it.  Flying drones are in the news, and I’m finding them creepy on one hand and scary on the other.  Ranchers and farmers in Nebraska and eastern Colorado made the news scratching their heads because they were hearing drones during the night all over the place, and no one knew whose they were or what they were up to.  Some thought that they might be owned by oil companies doing topographical maps or something.  The FAA recently announced that over the next two years it wants to force drone owners to radio tag and register their devices.  From time to time you read that someone was fined or arrested for flying these buggers near airports or doing some other crazy thing. In short, now no one knows who owns drones, no one is regulating them, but oil companies and others own them for purposes unknown, and that adds up to very creepy, very scary, and a danger to us all.

To top this all off, drones are killing machines.  Or, at least, they can be.  Earlier this winter we watched a couple of episodes of “Jack Ryan” on Amazon Prime.  Some of the soldiers who try to control these drones and pull the trigger to kill people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and god knows where else were having existential crises about killing civilians and children.  One showed up in Syria to give some money to the father of a man he killed, anonymously, from 10,000 miles away and 25,000 feet about the ground.  He had killed hundreds with the flick of a finger.

Now the news on the front pages of all of the papers is the story that Trump gave the OK, and someone pulled the trigger on a remote-controlled drone, that killed a big time general and spymaster from Iran and others that were with him outside of the Baghdad airport in Iraq.  He was no big fan of the USA or Americans.  He was a big shot in Iran. President Trump and his spinners claim he was responsible for giving the orders that killed hundreds of Americans over the years.  They claim he was in Iraq and up to no good.  Maybe so?

Bret Stephens, a columnist for the New York Times, even goes so far as to claim that he was such a bad dude that this is somehow “justice.”  How can that be?  We aren’t at war with Iran in any official way.  All of this was originally in retaliation for an American contractor being killed, so it certainly wasn’t proportional either in the way a Clinton, Bush, or Obama might have ordered a missile strike at a refinery or whatever to send a message.

Is this a thing where justice is only in the “eye of the beholder?”  Is justice something that one and all get to decide for themselves?  Sort of a multi-national, everything goes, free-for-all?  Was the strike on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center justice in killing innocent civilians in the USA, because some people somewhere else thought we had done wrong collectively in Afghanistan and elsewhere as a country?

Justice can’t be something that anyone determines by themselves in such a situation just because they have the power or wherewithal to order death to be done.  Someone has to pull the trigger just like we have to put the rug robot back on the docking station when it runs into a chair it can’t get around.  For there to be justice rather than vigilantes at a hanging tree, there has to be a process, serious consideration, and accountability where and when the orders are given.  None of these drones are smart enough to kill on their own and no one should be powerful enough to decide justice on their own, whether there or here.