Drones and George Orwell’s “You and the Atomic Bomb”

A few days ago, I took George Orwell’s essay “You and the Atomic Bomb“, replaced all references to “atomic bomb” or “the bomb” with “drones”, and re-read the essay. Aside from minor grammatical errors, it is stunning how the basic arguments do not change. The drones truly are the weapon of the future, and are the premier vehicle by which the ruling, global, technocratic elite will project force into the 21st century and eventually 22nd centuries.

Science and the De-Democratization of Violence

afghan with jezail

“A canter down some dark defile / Two thousand pounds of education / Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.” -Rudyard Kipling, Arithmetic on the Frontier

Orwell makes the point that when the dominant weapon is cheap and easy to make, the coercive powers of the State are greatly limited by countervailing force, and a “fair” system of government (or more generally, geopolitical affairs) is likely to result. If common people have a cost-effective means of resisting bare-face aggression and pillaging, then fighting becomes worthwhile. Despite being uneducated and poor, the Afghan mujaheddin were able to go toe-to-toe with the British Army in the 19th century, equipped only with, what Kipling termed, “ten-rupee jezails.” Likewise with the Americans being able to fight the British Army mostly with Kentucky rifles (though on occasion, cannons).
On the other hand, when the dominant weapon is extremely expensive, requires armies of technical staff to design and build, and “huge concentrations of industrial plant”, the end result is tyranny simply because the great mass is priced out of the market. The application of scientific know-how to warfare has resulted in an explosion in State power and dominance. Even today, arguments are made against the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, since it logically would have to extend to all weapons that even the military possesses. Since this is “unthinkable”, it stands to reason we should abrogate the Second Amendment. We can see a typical pattern here – the growing power and impunity of the State is a positive feedback loop, and the accession of power itself becomes the basis for even greater accessions of power.

A Thought Experiment: Buying a B-52 Bomber

b-52 bomber

Price tag: $84 million (2012 dollars)

As a thought experiment, imagine a group of citizens that wanted to challenge the might of the State, and decide to purchase military weapon systems, assuming they were completely legal to own. Only an organized mass of citizens could possibly afford to build a single B-52 bomber, pay for one full capacity of its bomb payload, and pay the support staff and pilots for its operation and fuel costs – and this leaves out the need for a dedicated airbase for fielding the weapon system in the field. And that is only for a single warplane, which would easily be defeated by any competent taxpayer-financed air force in the world, making the investment worthless in terms of force projection. For comparison, the B-17 Bomber was a very powerful weapon’s platform during WWII, and dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs on Nazi Germany. But losses were extremely high: about 1/3 of the 12,000 B-17’s produced for the war effort were lost in combat.
b17 shot down

Cost of a single B-17 bomber in 2016 dollars: About $3.5 million.

To summarize the previous paragraph: It is only by marshaling a large fraction of the productivity of an entire nation-state that such weapons can possibly be economically manufactured, logistically supported, and deployed in sufficient numbers to as to significantly threaten the enemy.

High-Powered Intellects and Drone Development

argus-is global hawk scanning the ground

A GlobalHawk drone equipped with an ARGUS-IS camera sensor can continuously monitor a region of 36 square miles, and track all moving objects within the region of observation.

And so it is with the drones – the weaker peoples of the globe are staring down the marriage of 160 IQs with war machines. While they are significantly cheaper to build than a full-sized bomber, their cost lies in the enormous amount of brains and intelligence needed to design the complex control and data processing systems that keep the drone from falling out of the sky, as well as operating its weaponry and sensor systems. Enormous amounts of research dollars will be needed to bring drones to their full potential, across the whole spectrum of applied sciences – including, but not limited to:
  • materials engineering, for the development of sturdier, lighter materials for drone construction
  • data sciences and analytics, to process and store the enormous amounts of data the sensor platforms generate
  • artificial intelligence, for converting the deluge of data into actionable knowledge, as well as other uses (friend-or-foe identification, image recognition, out-fighting and out-thinking enemy personnel and enemy drones, and eventually, complete autonomy)
  • physics, mechanics, aeronautical engineering, for the design of the geometry of the drone exterior and airfoil design
  • cybersecurity, for hardening the drone against being shut down or hacked by the enemy
  • electronics engineering, for designing the various electronic systems needed to make all of the other functions work robustly
  • military sciences, for defining the design requirements satisfactory to the military (which likely is a combination of cost, sensor capabilities, and killing power).
  • robotics
  • control theory, for smartly guiding the movements of drones and the command-and-control of drone swarms
  • marine engineering, for aquatic drones (surface and sub-surface)
  • automotive systems, for ground-based drones
  • signal processing and information theory, for managing the vast information flow from the drone sensor platform
  • thermodynamics, as it relates to drone engine, power plant, and battery design.

Venture capital funds have already raised billions of dollars betting on drones, and I cannot find fault with their prediction.

Asides the unattainable amount of research funding needed to develop the drone, drones will themselves require extremely expensive industrial plants for mass production. Large training facilities will be needed for training the armies of pilots and support staff needed for guiding and servicing the drones – at least, until artificial intelligence develops to the point that the drones become wholly autonomous, and can be electronically sealed off from the outside world.

“The Slave Empires of Antiquity”

I am not hopeful for the continued health of freedom in the world. I foresee a future where drones are used with impunity to smash all resistance to the totalizing ambitions of the global technocratic state. Not only will foreign enemies be exterminated and their people subjugated, but domestically, drones will be used for monitoring and law enforcement purposes to tighten the noose further and further.

Drones as law enforcement officers opens up new frontiers for mass control of people, at minimal cost. The fusion of criminal records with big data search capabilities has created what author Dale Carson calls “an electronic plantation”, where simply getting your name into the system bars you from employment, and preps you for continued harassment from cops for the rest of your life. The cost of records management plummeted with this fusion, making the electronic plantation feasible. The fusion of drones with law enforcement know-how will cause the economic costs of law enforcement, no matter how petty or unnecessary a given law may be, to plummet.

The end game will be the creation of a slave class of people continually told they are free, but forced to follow a path so straight and narrow as to, for all intents and purposes, be flesh-based automatons. Even the slightest transgression can result in immediate detection by mass surveillance technologies, and summary punishment by unthinking police droids. The vast poor mass will live with a boot on their throat from cradle to grave, while a small technocratic elite manages all human affairs from above and afar.

 

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4 thoughts on “Drones and George Orwell’s “You and the Atomic Bomb”

  1. Pingback: More on Propaganda from Jacques Ellul | unpropaganda

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  4. Pingback: An Overview of Drones | unpropaganda

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