Unmanned drones: 1 in 50 ‘soldiers’ in Afghanistan are robotic

For those of us who grew up with films such as Terminator and Robocop, the ideas of cyber-soldiers and wars between futuristic machines are familiar ones. Most of us probably thought that we were dealing in science fiction, rather than increasingly real threats to life and liberty. We discovered today that an astonishing 1 in 50 of the troops deployed in Afghanistan is actually a robotic drone, requiring only the slightest supervision from a human operator.

How much of our power are we planning to hand over to machines? As drones play an increasing role in conflicts, we face the real possibility that wars of the future could be fought largely by remote control. While this could have the positive impact of reducing casualties, it could equally well lead to the people who are flying the drones being insulated from the real consequences of their behaviour. When life looks and feels like a video game, it’s hard to feel real empathy for the other participants.

Just as worryingly, unmanned drones are threatening to creep into civilian life. We run the risk that, within the foreseeable future, drones will become a ubiquitous sight in our skies, policing such minor misdemeanours as fly-tipping. Do we really want to submit to this automated authority? Do we really value our liberty so lightly that we’re prepared to entrust it to a few chunks of metal, controlled by a human being who, in all likelihood, will be completely unaccountable?

The sinister spread of drones needs to be halted before the kind of nightmare vision detailed above becomes a reality. As a nation, we have a proud history of upholding civil liberties, yet we seem to have fallen asleep at the wheel while Tony Blair’s Labour government systematically removed rights that we have cherished since Magna Carta. Now we seem ready to invite in any violation governments and technology companies can come up with if lulled by the promise that it will improve our ‘security’.

In a world that grows more uncertain seemingly by the day, this is an understandable response, if a highly dangerous one. We need to learn to rely on our own qualities rather than depending upon authorities to keep us safe.

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