Drone Dispatch: Trouble in Mechanical Paradise

Emerge 2014 is all about who we are in relation to technology and our environment. It’s a glance deeply inward, as well as an analysis of our changing human and social zeitgeist. Accordingly, sound artist David Rothenberg will perform a musical piece alongside flying drone quadcopters, transforming them into living, breathing creatures. The plan was to have these drones piloted by the ASU Air Devils – skilled  young pilots who brag of having the precision of Blue Angels for the Drone generation. But their cutting-edge skill may already be on the chopping block. The Air Devils could bumped by a few hundred lines of code.  Professor Srikanth Saripalli of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, drone and robotics guru extraordinaire, is working on a program to synchronize four drones mid-flight and have them fly, for the most part, on their own which, after all, is part of his normal research. By connecting to their individual radios from a central computer – think air traffic control taking over autopilot – the drones can engage in autonomous flight.  Human directed choreography is replaced by programmed and recorded flight plans.  Collisions and crashes are avoided automatically. The dilemma? For this year’s Emerge, the Air Devils could be sitting on the sidelines watching their own drones fly overhead. Whether stalking bad guys in exotic places or delivering that DVD from Amazon, it’s getting harder to deny that this, as the cliché goes, changes everything. The fresh question we must now ask is whether the Future of Me is a celebration of a utopian, trans-humanist enhancement via technology, a new partnership between human and drone, or aprediction that we will all someday be replaced by small shell scripts. Welcome to the future of you.   Image courtesy of Ars Electronica, used under a Creative Commons license