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Digital disruption blossoms from a thousand sources. New technologies seem to emerge slowly and almost randomly. Then BOOM! They come together in unexpected ways. Here is something to keep you up at night.

We are near the peak of the flu season in the US. Hopefully, you’ve dodged the bullet and if not I hope you feel better. Every time the bugs hit us, we also get a dose of the “plague” and “terror” stories. We have feared that terrorists would be able to manipulate bacteria or viruses into bio-weapons on their kitchen table using technology that previously was only available to national labs. They then unleash the pale rider of the apocalypse upon us. So far that horror has not appeared (that we know of).

Now, their goals are even more achievable. But, the “bugs” are mechanical and you may think of them as mere toys. Today, any actor can create swarms of difficult to stop, small drones that could kill.

A few very recent facts for your consideration:

  • “Over one million aerial drones are now registered in the U.S.” (January 18, 2018). In 2016, it was virtually zero.
  • “Meet the world’s smallest selfie-snapping drone” – fits in the palm of your hand (November 2, 2017).
  • “China is making 1,000-UAV drone swarms now” (January 8, 2018).
  • “On the night of January 5th and into the early hours of the next day, Russian forces in Syria came under attack by a ‘massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles’ says the Russian Ministry of Defense”. (January 10, 2018)

Low Cost + Wide Availability + Miniaturization + Swarming Artificial Intelligence + Weaponization = a frightening turning point?

Elon Musk and 115 other experts are begging the UN to curtail and halt the infusion of AI into weapon systems. But they are thinking linearly about today’s military systems being made smarter and worse: autonomous – no more humans in the kill loop. All well and good but let’s jump off the straight-line extrapolations and imagine something more radical. Forget Skynet and the Terminator – that is a so 20th century way of thinking about the implications of digital advances in warfare. Ours is now a world of guerilla warfare and non-state actors where plentiful, cheap, tiny, smart and deadly drones point a disturbing part of our digital future.

We’re talking about a dramatic departure brought about by digital technologies that most people carry in their pocket or purse. Your smartphone has GPS (location awareness); powerful long lasting batteries, intense processing power; an excellent camera (and soon: facial recognition), and of course it communicates! These tiny, cheap and ubiquitously available components gave rise to the whole hobbyist drone movement.

Now we weaponize it: give it the ability to target and kill. Take a look at this YouTube video on what that future might look like.

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