Dawn of the Drones: Carmageddon, Part 2

2011 June 12
by Ando Arike

We’ve all heard about Predator drones and how they’re winning the war  for us over there in AfPak, without our fly-boys ever having to leave the ground! Well, get ready — now this space-age technology is coming home to make our “on-the-go” American lives even more convenient and safe. For instance, how would you like a robotic car that drives itself while you relax and watch TV, perhaps enjoying your favorite cocktail? Cool, huh? Or an iPhone app that alerts you to vacant parking spaces on crowded city streets? If you live in Nevada or San Francisco, these technologies are soon coming to a neighborhood near you…

One of the dirtiest among the Empire’s myriad dirty secrets is that nearly every major technological advance since WWII has been rooted in military research — that is, finding better ways to coerce and/or kill people. As the U.S. military-industrial complex took form early in the Cold War, the Pentagon learned that promoting R&D with both military and civilian applications was the most effective way to encourage rapid advances in engineering; today, the fruits of this realization are all around us: in jet airline travel, integrated solid-state circuits, the Global Positioning System, and the Internet, to name a few civilian spin-offs from military R&D. Now a new technology thrills the loins of our generals and politicians — robotics. Automated killing and coercion is the wave of the future…

Beyond making fresh enemies among Third World victims, what this will mean for us here in the “homeland” is an industrial version of Darwinian selection — a sudden efflorescence of all variety of robotic gizmos, two of which I mentioned in my first, somewhat facetious paragraph. Military money is the mother of invention, and today, a flood of the green stuff is fertilizing all sorts of evil robotic ova; in the near future, some of these will mature into predatory killing machines, others into less deadly, but equally awful civilian “helpmates” as the market winnows out failures and targets winners for more investment. In effect, the American public will become guinea-pigs for working out the technological bugs.

Robotic "Gladiator" being developed for the U.S. Marines

Consider the “self-driving car.” According to a recent N.Y. Times article, Google has been quietly lobbying Nevada legislators to allow a version it’s developing to be tested on that state’s public streets and highways. The mastermind behind Google’s project is Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which has been a major player in developing drone technology, and a long-time contractor for the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s extreme-technology R&D unit. Thrun’s credentials in the field of “self-driving cars” comes from his leadership of the Stanford Racing Team, whose robotic cars have won million dollar prizes in the DARPA Grand Challenges, races intended to speed the R&D of military unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). In an astonishing move, little known to the public, Congress has mandated that one-third of all military vehicles must be unmanned, and thus robotic, by 2015. Again, Nevada, the historical test-site for so many horrific weapons, is slated to be the proving grounds for another up-and-coming military technology.

As of this writing, Google has not gotten the go-ahead, and so Nevada citizens needn’t keep a lookout for “self-driving” Predator cars yet, but in San Francisco the iPhone parking system went online about a month ago.  Call me a Luddite, but this is technological lunacy. Anyone who considers this city a bastion of green, people-friendly government needs to think again.

Imagine, for instance, several dozens, or worse, hundreds of motorists dividing their attention between this iPhone app and the real-time scene around them, zeroing in on those vacant parking spaces. San Francisco already holds the big-city record for auto-pedestrian casualties — now their Department of Transportation is spending $20 million on an effort that only threatens to increase these. As the NY Times reports:

City officials acknowledge the potential problem. They are urging drivers to pull over before they pull up the city’s iPhone app, or to do so before they leave home. But the spots can disappear quickly, as any circling driver knows, and for plugged-in motorists in the habit of texting or glancing at the GPS, the urge to use the parking app is certain to mount as the frustration does.

Pull over while an empty spot beckons? You’ve got to be kidding! Parking triggers the killer instinct. Anyone who’s ever driven in Manhattan can imagine the actual result — i.e., hordes of drivers speeding to the GPS-located scene of the empty parking spot, more or less heedless of anything around them. Already, drivers using cell-phones and texting while driving have become a leading cause of accidents — rivaling drunk driving — so why would a city government actively encourage such behavior?

The fact is that Silicon Valley firms like Google envision a whole new and extremely profitable partnership with the auto industry (and in the background, more importantly, the Pentagon) outfitting vehicles and street infrastructure with a whole new array of inter-communicating technologies. It’s not just cars outfitted with steering systems, GPS guidance, entertainment systems — it’s an entire automotive internet that they have in mind. Like some of the far-flung plans of the Pentagon for a “net-centric” military of cyborg soldiers linked to eyes-in-the-sky — indeed, many of the same technologies are involved — the idea is for a digitally networked system in which cars are linked with a “smart” street infrastructure that guides them, helps them avoid congestion and collisions, and lets them park, seamlessly and automatically. I’ve even seen plans for pedestrians and cyclists to wear RFID tags (Radio-Frequency-Identification) that will alert automobile computers in the vicinity of their presence. Presumably, anyone not wearing a tag will be fair game.

But mostly, these new wrinkles in automotive technology will be covert R&D for more pressing military and police state applications, providing the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, and the DHS new ways to monitor our behavior and eliminate us when necessary. We’ve noted here the new push to expand the use of airborne drones in U.S. airspace; ground-based drones will have the same function, but at street level…

One Response leave one →
  1. 2011 August 15
    mattyc2 permalink

    You may remember who I am. I was your student at Pace University during the Fall Semester 2010. You may remember I was the most vocal in your classroom. You continue to write excellent articles. I actually have read your pieces in Harper’s as well. You continue to be a voice of sound reason, exposing the malfeasance in our government that is being kept quiet at the hands of our Black Water and Haliburton-ized corporate media.

    -Matthew Cruz, 08-15-11

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