Women. Power. Peace.

Who Owns the Drone? – A Discussion on the Role of technology in Society

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On Tuesday, April 1, members and staff from Georgia WAND and The Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition’s Drone Task Force met with students and researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) to discuss current and potential applications of drone technology being developed at Georgia Tech today. A diverse group of Georgia Tech researchers from the Aerospace Engineering Department, the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and other departments contributed thoughtful perspectives to this lively roundtable discussion.

Many of the researchers we spoke with from Georgia Tech were concerned about the lethal use of drones and drone surveillance, however, they were genuinely excited about the world-changing positive potential of the technology. Members of the group spoke about the potential for positive and sometimes life-saving uses of drones, including drones which supply medicine, food and even internet service to people in rural and wilderness areas, the use of drones for search and rescue, art and recreation, and autonomous drones that are able to find outbreaks of pests in crops, targeting the application of pesticides rather than blanket spraying whole fields.

While some members of the group expressed that military applications of drone technology could have advantages for the US and other countries in terms of reduced risk to soldiers and possible reduced cost of conflict, many members of the group, including drone researchers, were deeply concerned about the current military applications of drone technology, noting that the US often acts in violation of international law and human rights, setting a dangerous global precedent as more industrialized nations purchase and develop weaponized drones. One Georgia Tech student pointed out that the US must set the standard now that it hopes other nations will follow with respect to the use of military drones in the future.

As the discussion moved into the ethical concerns for scientists working on autonomous and unmanned vehicles, one member of the group pointed out that computers, the internet, airplanes and even Teflon were all developed with military funding for military applications, yet they have revolutionized the world in ways that benefit many. Several in the group suggested that decisions about how this technology or any technology is used are ultimately the responsibility of those who use it. In the case of the military use of drones, the responsibility lies in the hands of Congress and the current Administration.

Several in the group expressed that when it comes to developing praxis for creating change in the way that drones are used, it might be most effective to focus on those who are using drones in ways that violate human rights and life, namely Congress, but to be careful not to try to hinder the technology itself, to the extent that it is not weaponized.

Georgia WAND and the Drone Task Force are pleased to have created a model for peace groups across the country to begin positive ongoing dialogues with the scientists and researchers who are at the forefront of drone technology: a frontier which has tremendous potential for good but also short and horrendous history of carnage and human rights violations. For more information about how you can start a dialogue with drone researchers in your own town, please contact Emilia Kaiser or Kevin Caron.

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