Skydio’s pedigree and mission are impeccable: co-founders from MIT; a $3 million seed round courtesy of Silicon Valley stalwarts Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners; and an ambition to make drones “far easier to control, safer to operate, and more capable.” So how much will it cost, and when can I get one? Wait a minute…
I now know what a conflicted Luddite must have felt like back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s with the rise of the Industrial Revolution.
In this third installment of our series “Skynet is Coming, Skynet is Coming,” we pause to take a look at newly-formed drone company Skydio. Skydio has a less scary vibe than some other drone efforts under way – and I instinctively want one when they become available — even if the company narrative may actually run closer to THE TERMINATOR film than any of them.
Yes: brilliant and well-funded young inventors with a mission to change the world for the better, but whose achievements in hardware and software are easily adapted to military technologies which at some point are likely to exceed the capabilities of its creators.
And then go rogue.
But we can’t halt technological progress, can we?
Nor should we.
What we really need to do is evolve ourselves: to be more thoughtful, more ethical, more aware that we are part of one ecosystem – and less corruptible.
Like that’s going to happen any time soon.
So how can I NOT be conflicted? Let’s just take half a dozen or so quotes from Skydio’s website:
“Drones powered by Skydio navigate the world intelligently, making them intuitive, safe, and easy to operate.”
Pro: I LOVE this! I want one! We can get amazing shots even beyond what’s possible with a Technocrane for a tiny fraction of the cost, with far fewer people! More money available for the screenwriter, director, actors…
Con: But wait: that’s taking jobs away from Technocrane operators and the demand for Technocrane altogether – more lost jobs. And it also means the drone is making decisions on its own from second to second, adapting to changing conditions. At some point, we can use that to save our soldiers’ lives by taking out bad guys – but what happens when the drone defines “bad” as “us?”
“…change the way businesses think about monitoring their operations and infrastructure…”
Pro: With crumbling infrastructure (bridges, roads, tunnels, rail) and vulnerable infrastructure (power, water, communications), this could be a tremendous boon to protect ourselves both proactively and defensively from natural and man-made threats: drones are drastically cheaper than people and can see things with imaging sensors that humans can’t, and go places people can’t – like collapsed mines or fires.
Con: But they can be hacked, and they can be programmed to monitor people. Can you imagine J. Edgar Hoover with drones programmed to monitor people? Yeah, great if it’s Osama bin Laden… but Martin Luther King, Jr.?
“…a drone that’s aware of its surroundings…”
Pro: Fantastic! I won’t be able to crash it, I won’t be able to accidentally injure people, I won’t be able to distract a pilot in a low-flying plane as I try to capture the incredible establishing shot I have in mind.
Con: Isn’t “aware” exactly what Skynet became, and that’s when it launched all-out war on humans?
“…the founding team of Project Wing at Google[x]…”
Pro: Google is an incredible company that has done incredible things and accelerated the democratization of knowledge.
Con: We now know that people’s search histories are monetized; that Google knows more about us than most of our friends (how many of your friends would you like to know every last search you’ve ever made – and being drunk, depressed or bored is no excuse?); and that the federal government probably has access to this same data (or soon will); and that this team was part of that culture?
“…the first meaningfully autonomous systems…”
Pro: Filmmaking is complex, and a drone that won’t get into trouble is one less thing to worry about. And if we want to be able to work while we’re stuck in traffic, isn’t autonomous driving a good thing, too?
Con: The definition of autonomous is “acting independently or having the freedom to do so.” We can’t even give that to ourselves consistently around the world. Synonyms: self-governing, self-ruling, self-determining, independent, sovereign, free, unmonitored.
“…leveraging the power of software and algorithms to make autonomous vehicles with capabilities beyond those of the best human pilots…”
Pro: We won’t have to worry about the skills or mental health of pilots; and I’d happily surrender my non-existent drone piloting skills to an iPhone app to do it for me. It’s hard enough getting a smooth slider shot.
Con: We will have to worry about the mental health of robotic pilots; and the best human pilots will not be able to defend against robotic pilots gone wild.
“…our research group’s pioneering work in GPS-denied flight…”
Pro: Oh, crap.
Con: “GPS-denied flight” is a military term if ever I heard one
Drones powered by Skydio navigate the world intelligently, making them intuitive, safe, and easy to operate.
Think in terms of the video you want to capture or the data your business needs, rather than worrying about piloting the vehicle or GPS reception.
Learn more about Skydio Here.
(cover photo credit: snap from Skydio)