Shashanth Shetty

The Silhouette


Way back when, about three of four years ago, a couple of buddies and I went to see a movie called Eagle Eye. Terrible movie. Never rent it. Don’t even bother pirating it. It was a complete waste of the eight-dollar admission fee. The storyline was completely unrealistic, as was the acting of a clearly groggy Shia “I’ve-seen-more-pathos-from-those-robots-you-always-hang-around” Lebouf.

Basically, the plot went a little something like this: Man trusts machine, machine loses trust in man, machine attacks man, man ultimately defeats machine. The main villain in the movie was a super computer named ARIA, and “her” plot was to kill the president of the U.S. How did she intend on accomplishing such a difficult assassination? Interestingly, she relied primarily on using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or a drone. Obviously, in the end, she was not victorious. Lebouf’s character ended up defeating Aria/Megatron/T-1000/whatever and the earth was saved. I promptly went home and spent the day trying to erase the contents of the movie from my mind. What had initially been described as “this year’s number-one sci-fi thriller” had turned out to be something less.

That’s not to say that the movie was a complete loss. It did spark an interest in me that was to follow for quite a while. It got me interested in drones.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no misanthropic criminal mastermind, nor likewise, an engineer. I have no inclination, nor intent, to ever build or fly one of these. I’m interested in drones solely because I see value in them, because they truly are the future. Not only the future of warfare, but contrastingly, of human rights protection as well.

Let’s start off by doing a bit of explaining, though, shall we? Despite your startling good looks and your clearly impeccable grasp of the English language, I’m inclined to assume that you don’t know much about drones. I’m also inclined to assume that much of what you do know about drones comes from either news reports, or for the less involved, I guess maybe Call of Duty.

Drones have moved far beyond their objective war capabilities, and are now being used for all sorts of purposes, especially the reconnaissance drones. At the same time, drones and drone technology have simultaneously moved from the exclusionary hands of the U.S. Army into the private sphere. Customers can now buy drones from contractors for a pittance. What was once priced at upwards of a million dollars is nowadays priced at less then $600,000 to $700,000 thousand U.S. dollars. Not the predator drones, mind you. Those still cost a fortune. The reconnaissance drones, however, are another story.

You might be thinking, well what of it? What use do I have for a reconnaissance drone? Well, there are several, to be honest. Some of them are drawing investment right now. Greenpeace, for example, has purchased some of them, with the stated purpose of using them to watch Japanese whale hunters.

But why stop there? With a highly focused bird’s eye view of nearly any location, the possibilities become limitless. Think high-def surveillance of the African Savannah, capturing and documenting the hunting grounds and trade routes of poachers. Think fly-byes over the Amazon – some of the world’s most remote locations, now open to discovery. Think video footage of the massacres in Syria, actual real-time evidence of the atrocities Assad and his bunch of thugs are capable of.

No longer would we have to count on the shaky cell phone films for an estimate of the dead and wounded. With drones, we could count the number of dead ourselves, and we could ensure that no face is ever forgotten. And because drones can be operated from neighboring countries, the use of these drones would pose no risk to their controller. NGO organizations would no longer have to choose between keeping their volunteers safe and actually getting results. News organizations would no longer have to worry about protecting their reporters and their camera crew.

Legally, this still remains a murky subject. States are not allowed to use reconnaissance drones against one another; it’s considered a violation of sovereignty. But as control of these drones shifts from the state to the private sector, the legality becomes increasingly less clear and more open to interpretation.

Some nations are dead set against the use of drones in any situation, including reporting, but, of course, those are the states that might have something to lose. They’ve gone so far as to threaten to shoot down any drones that enter their airspace. But as drone prices go down and casualty numbers go up, you can be sure someone will be willing to take the risk to capture definitive proof of human right violations. Drones have changed the nature of the game forever.

And what, you might be asking, is Canada’s position on all this? Well, that remains to be seen. As far as I know, we don’t currently have any drones, reconnaissance or predator, despite all their advantages. Certainly, few of our news organizations and none of our NGOs could afford one. So, we are faced with a choice: as Canadians, we can either embrace drones wholeheartedly, or fall behind forever. Rest assured, those remain our only two choices. We’ve entered the age of drones, and now, there’s no going back.


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