Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The boys and their toys: Drones R Us
A seldom acknowledged dimension of the U.S. military today is what the impish historian of technology David F. Noble used to call "the boys and their toys." The logo above from the "Program Executive Office" of the "Unmanned Aviation and Stike Weapons" program shows the ghoulish fun that the guys are having with the latest collection of gadgets in their toybox -- the drone aircraft. Yes, your tax dollars are paying to produce menacing graphics of The Grim Reaper surrounded by the circular bureaucratic logo on what appears to be a Pentagon door or in a military Power Point display.
The idea that designing, building and using lethal weaponry is a kind of game is a common obsession in America today. It is clearly on display, for example, in the "build a robot to smash other robots" competitions that are commonly used to attract middle school, high school and college students to careers in computer science and engineering. The subtext is that killing and destruction are all part of the enjoyment that sophisticated technology involves. To point out (as I sometimes do) that this approach is ultimately pathological and certainly not a great way to attract young people to lives as technical professionals is dismissed as "denying the kids their fun," and "rejecting the best way to recruit the next generation of engineers."
In the interest of truth in advertising, my suggestion would be to include the Pentagon's stylish new grim reaper on advertisements for the next round of killer robot games we take to the country's school children. They need to know what they're getting into. (Perhaps they do already.)