'Drone Aviary' Is a Thought-Provoking Look at the Consequences of Cameras in the Sky

"Our machines are disturbingly lively and we ourselves frighteningly inert." The unsettling quote from Donna Haraway, Chair of the History of Consciousness program at the University of California Santa Cruz, scrolls across the screen as a network of drones patrols a city, scanning pedestrians, cars, buildings, and even people in their homes, monitoring them, tracking them, and assessing them fines and charges for breaking the law.

Most discourse on drones has centered around one of two things: the amazing footage and photographic possibilities they have opened or their safe usage and ever-evolving legal standing. Rarely do we address the sociopolitical, societal, criminal, and personal impact a future in which drones are ubiquitous will have. "Drone Aviary" isn't quite Orwellian, but it's far from comfortable. In this short film, drones have gained physical autonomy, and they use it for anything from highly personalized advertisements to assigning traffic tickets and assessing criminal behavior. As they scan individuals, they instantly evaluate their reactions: "happy, averse, neutral, negative." They keep records of their movements and actions. They read their every expression. While perhaps not our immediate future, it's something to give serious thought to: as we put more eyes in more places, how much of our freedom of expression of humanity are we willing to have monitored? Recorded? Criminalized? 

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Spy Black's picture

"Drone Aviary" isn't quite Orwellian...and they use it for anything from highly personalized advertisements to assigning traffic tickets and assessing criminal behavior. As they scan individuals, they instantly evaluate their reactions: "happy, averse, neutral, negative." They keep records of their movements and actions. They read their every expression."

You think that's not Orwellian?

Alex Cooke's picture

I think it's Orwellian, but it's not to the point of thought police.

Alex Cooke's picture

Let's stay on topic, please.

Alex Cooke's picture

It's not on topic because it dispenses with the original connection to drones, photography, and the article and simply spouts political ideas nonderivative of the original idea: how drones specifically will affect our future.

Edward Porter's picture

Why on earth did they plaster heavy-handed quotes over this otherwise gorgeous audio visual experience? Could have been way more subtle, while still getting the message across.


Simon Patterson's picture

Terrific video, very well done. We're already there though, with police cars having cameras and ocr technology that reads number plates and searches the database for outstanding warrants, unlicenced owners etc. Plus we have security cameras everywhere, whose feeds are continually being monitored and recorded. So we don't need drones to make this a reality - we're already there!

Simon Patterson's picture

That's interesting to see that security cameras aren't everywhere in the US. I would have expected the US to have them everywhere, although I've not travelled there myself, yet. I'm in Australia; they're definitely prevalent in cities here.

I agree that it is the culture of the police who are using the technology that is the most important factor. I think you've made a good call there.

I suspect China has it all over us in the west in this regard - their police force are almost entirely unarmed and I felt a lot more protected by them across the country than I ever have by police in the west. This is my impression chatting to local Chinese people, also. I'm sure the odd Chinese cop does the dirty sometimes, but it would seem that this would be counter to their normal police culture.

Simon Patterson's picture

Ok, thanks for clarifying that security cameras are very common in the USA, as I had expected. The only reason I had thought otherwise is because you said "Security cameras everywhere is the UK, not America". Maybe the term "security cameras" implies they are government owned in your part of the world, I'm not sure. Anyhow, I understand what you meant now.

It is interesting to talk to local Chinese people about their leaders. They watch, judge and openly discuss their leaders' performance just like we do in the west. This contrasts greatly with say Zimbabwe, where locals instantly steer conversations away from talk about their leaders every time you bring it up.

Being the President of China means you have a billion people judging your decisions, and a culture where those judgements define your legacy. And each previous leader's legacy is known by all, some with good legacies but some not so good. That level of pressure and public accountability is something I'd hate to face.

Simon Patterson's picture

A bit of googling research tells me there were an estimated 30 million closed circuit cameras in the US in 2011 and 5 million in the UK in 2013. That's approximately one closed circuit camera per 12 people in both nations. Plenty were installed overseeing areas attended by the public in both countries. No doubt their prevalence has only increased, possibly exponentially, since those estimates were made.

Can't say I'm certain what point you're trying to make any more, but those are the figures.

Simon Patterson's picture

avoids eye contact, backs away slowly but steadily...

Ralph Hightower's picture

The CBS show, Person of Interest, came to mind when I was watching the video with the annotations.