Where the coming, computerized, economic order will lead us

Robotic RevolutionThe robotic revolution is fast-approaching. It is clear that the applications of robot and drone technology have been sufficiently demonstrated by the US military’s activities in the middle east. In the coming decades it is highly likely that these types of technology will become an inescapable part of everyday life for both Americans and individuals around the world.

The military applications of drone technology have been showcased thoroughly on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan where vehicles are able to stay airborne for days, remotely firing missiles and providing much-needed intelligence to soldiers who are able to remain safe and in cover. The domestic uses of this technology are also becoming more known.

The world’s economy exists at a state that is comparable to that of pre-industrial revolution times with respect to robotics. The robotic revolution is here and it is set to completely revolutionize the ways in which people around the world go about daily activities. The potential for the abuse of this new technology also exists as well. In an age where individuals are becoming accustomed to widespread surveillance and police activity, it is wise to gain all the information possible in order to prevent the slide into a military-police-technocracy.

The United States Military may, indeed, replace thousands of common infantry-level soldiers with robots. Gen. Robert Cone, head of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, asserts that the Army is striving to become a, “smaller, more lethal, deployable and agile force.” Cone has suggested that the Army is considering reducing the average brigade size from 4,000 to 3,000 individuals, filling in the remaining space with autonomous drone-soldiers.

With reference to the lowering of individuals employed by the Armed Services, Cone utilized the example of the US Navy. He states, “When you see the success, frankly, that the Navy has had in terms of lowering the numbers of people on ships, are there functions in the brigade that we could automate — robots or manned/unmanned teaming — and lower the number of people that are involved given the fact that people are our major cost.”

The US Army has considered a plan to reduce its available fighting force from 540,000 to 490,000 personnel by the end of 2015. With this loss of man-power, the branch must necessarily find a way to regain its lost killing capability. It seems likely that the increase in the use of drones in place of actual humans will only increase, seeing as it’s much easier to explain to the American public that a regiment of robots was obliterated than a regiment of humans.

It is easy to visualize a future where the majority of the world’s armies are robotic (at least in developed nations) . This would be a world where the incidence of nations going to war would consist in thousands of individuals simply getting up in the morning, pouring a cup of coffee, and sitting down at their own bank of computer monitors at a base in the United States far-removed from wherever the battlefield is.

On the home-front, one can easily see the eventual rise of semi-robotic or entirely robotic police forces. These would come with both potential benefits and drawbacks. Benefits would include the inability to abuse power (as all actions would already be pre-programmed). Drawbacks also most definitely exist such that police drones may be incapable of empathizing with suspects or individuals who are being questioned or in custody. The problem of emotion when programming robots and future drone forces will obviously be a huge one in the coming decades.

There will be far-reaching impacts of the robotic revolution. One can easily foresee a world where, for example, all cars are self-driving (at least with a pre-programmed manual override for emergencies). These cars would be run through one, central, government mainframe that essentially prevents the vast majority of traffic accidents.

This technology, however, does come with dystopic drawbacks. The potential for government surveillance of citizens will most likely increase by many orders of magnitude. Many platforms for the constant surveillance of American citizens already exist and are only increasing in number. Backpack craft as well as Hummingbirds will allow government agents to watch citizens basically at any time for any reason (provided that the legal system continues to erode the privacy rights of Americans, which seems likely).

The US military has even enlisted the help of massive blimps in Afghanistan for the purposes of large-scale surveillance. Is it too much of a leap to foresee this technology coming to the domestic arena in the United States? Not particularly.

Boeing has even looked into utilizing so-called “swarm” technology. This would feature the use of thousands of tiny, autonomous, drone cameras to view wide swaths of land at the same time. It has been termed the “Gorgon Stare” by the establishment.

“Gorgon Stare,” says Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, “will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

Creepy? Most definitely, but by no means does it end there. These UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are also becoming increasingly more efficient at what they do. Their technology is being updated constantly. The number of digital receptors in the cameras mounted on these drones is increasing at an exponential rate, in accordance with Moore’s Law. This will allow for the ever-more-accurate scrutiny of individuals on the ground.

Some argue that the robotic revolution will adversely impact the employment market. This may, indeed, be true as quite a few of the sectors that exist in the economy today do not require much skill to work in (fast food, mail delivery, clerical work). In fact, even those fields, like law and medicine (both surgical and diagnostic), that require an enormous investment of time and mental effort to enter may eventually be eclipsed by computerized “minds” that operate exactly the same way (by algorithm) in every situation.

Now, does this mean that the economy will inevitably collapse from a lack of jobs? Probably not. The system will have to evolve to encompass the new industries that will spring up. In fact,  says Mark Thoma, an economist at the University of Oregon, “There will be jobs we can’t imagine right now.” Yes, many of the industries that exist now will eventually become completely computerized and mechanized, but, then who maintains the robots? Who writes their programs? Who controls the drones that are not autonomous? The system is simply changing, not ending.

It is inevitable that robots will become an ever-larger part of our daily lives. The problem that we are faced with is that of the ways in which the changes we implement impact us. The potential for the application of future technology to the benefit of humanity is great. This potential also extends far to the negative end of the spectrum, however.

The terrifying destructive and surveillance capabilities that are now being developed must be kept in check by the rule of law. It is necessary to ensure that the programming of all future autonomous drones adheres to a strict set of standards that guarantee the freedom and privacy of all citizens exposed to their proliferation.

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