April 03, 2016

The march of technology

The stuff we're doing in high tech has been rendering revolutions, and the side effects of those revolutions will reverberate for centuries.

For 500 years, printing presses were uncommon, and thus the power of communications they enabled were limited to a few people. But that all changed about 20 years ago; and now nearly anyone can publish and distribute their thoughts, electronically, at negligible cost. That revolution has already wrought substantial changes and it's only going to get worse (or better, depending on your point of view).

One consequence of that is that the business model of dozens of corporations who relied on ownership of physical printing presses is rapidly becoming non-viable. Some of them have gone out of business already and the rest are trying to find ways to survive, even though most of them will not.

But it also means that the self-selected "gate keepers" of public discourse have totally lost control over the gate. Public discourse is no longer controlled by any kind of elite. And as a result, we live in interesting times.

And now for something completely different. A hundred years ago, aircraft because a significant weapon of war. By WWII the importance of aircraft became overwhelming. But building and operating a substantial air force was extremely expensive, involving huge capital investment and large numbers of men, all of which cost a great deal to maintain.

And maybe that's about to change, too. ISIS is reported to be developing an airforce based on drones, which are cheap, and readily available, and don't require a mammoth support infrastructure. Even if this report is not true, it's going to happen somewhere, by someone, and not necessarily just by a large terrorist organization.

It's possible that in ten years it will be just as cheap and common for private citizens to have their own airforce equivalents, the way we have the equivalent of printing presses now. How, for instance, do you maintain security over major buildings like the US Capitol when any crank can put a pipe bomb on a drone and send it in?

And not just major political targets. Will "pro-life" cranks start using drones to bomb abortion clinics? Will "gun control" advocates start making airstrikes against large gun stores and shooting ranges? When will we see a public official who is giving a speech get attacked by a drone? How do you fend that off? (Even if all it does is to disrupt the speech and panic the crowd, that may be enough for some attackers.)

How do you protect a big natgas storage facility against drones that don't care about barbed-wire fences?

And if it's a drone with a decent radio range, which is carrying a camera in addition to a bomb, then the attacker could be anywhere. How do you find them?

And how many will there be? This kind of attack could be launched for under $1000 by anyone with a grievance. (And there are a lot of grievances out there!)

I don't think this is going to cause as much change, or as widespread of change, as the internet did, but it's going to change a lot of things. For instance, it may become the norm for heads of state to make speeches by TV instead of in person. And just as the internet has changed the way campaigns are run, the fear of drone attack will change them too.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Weird World at 12:17 PM | Comments (9) | Add Comment
Post contains 573 words, total size 4 kb.

1 I don't see drones adding that much to the terrorist arsenal that already isn't possible through other means. 

If you can build a small drone and have access to the explosives to weaponize it, you can probably safely and more easily build a mortar and range it in with a couple of burner cellphones.  The IRA has (or had) been using homemade mortars for quite some time, some of which had a payload of more than a hundred pounds of explosives.  (Insert 81mm mortar demonstration in GATE here). 

For the larger drones, a Predator drone is about the size of a smaller WW2 fighter (though considerably lighter).  If you can find a fanatic and teach him to take off in a small plane fitted with explosives, you can probably mimic the combat effectiveness of a drone.

Posted by: Civilis at April 04, 2016 10:35 AM (UkqiM)

2 And for the pipe-bomb drone, model airplanes sufficient to carry that kind of payload have existed for decades. They require line-of-site to control, but that's not going to be a big deal in a city with lots of tourists, hotels, and foot traffic.

Posted by: Boviate at April 04, 2016 11:00 AM (XRvFv)

3 Somebody is also working on another countermeasure:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/15/watch-a-drone-catcher-net-a-rogue-drone/

That net-equipped drone would likely be enough to stop some basement-dwelling nutcase with a homemade pipebomb-drone.  Meanwhile, there's not much that could be done to stop a government-sponsored terrorist drone attack, but there are a lot of other government-sponsored attacks that probably couldn't be stopped that are less risky than one using a drone.

Thinking about it, I suspect drones may me much more of a threat for the ability to disrupt events.  Given that a certain breed of political activist loves to disrupt political events, and you don't need to worry about the risk of acquiring or making explosives (the riskiest part, I'd wager) if you're just being obnoxious with your drone, I'd think this is an obvious trend, and one our anti-drone net drone is perfect for.  Google 'flying dildocopter' for what may be the original use of this tactic.

Posted by: Civilis at April 04, 2016 11:21 AM (UkqiM)

4

What I've been thinking of as a counter-measure is something that looks like a rocket launcher which actually is a microwave gun. It projects a multi-watt beam of microwaves which can be aimed at a drone, with intention of causing EMI in the electronics resulting in it going out of control and crashing.

The only real problem with my idea is that it would require a pretty impressive powerpack.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 04, 2016 12:50 PM (+rSRq)

5 Supercapacitors are available with power densities up to 15 KW/kg, so that power supply might not be an issue. But you'd better keep the side-lobes down, or you could cook people's eyeballs accidentally.

I'd like to think the gatekeepers are gone, but they're not. They've moved from exploiting an oligopoly position in printing presses, to exploiting an oligopoly position in software platforms. The new gatekeepers are Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The latter two have definately been caught engaging in systematic censorship of ideas they don't like, and google is suspected of dabbling in it.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore at April 04, 2016 01:01 PM (l55xw)

6 They'll pull them back off the market if they have to, like they did with kids' night-vision goggles a few years back.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at April 04, 2016 03:42 PM (4njWT)

7 White noise radio jammers might be able to disable some drones within a given area (or at least make them more difficult to control). If you need to operate your own radio equipment in range of the jamming, you could have some pseudo-random schedule where frequency windows open in your jamming curtain. Of course, all of this assumes software defined radio capabilities that would make the FCCs' heads spin around.

In a discussion among me and some friends, it was brought up that for the cost of a single F-22 ($150 million), you could field an air force of 1000 Cessna 172s. The F-22 could shoot down any two of them, no contest, whereupon it has to go back to base to re-arm: A base that might not exist if enough of the Cessna 172s get through, and just explode on target. (Realistically, you could do all sorts of things with such mob-tactics). I think something similar to the same principle is going on here.

Air strategy is stuck on one hill, and there might be a significantly higher-number/lower-cost hill.

Posted by: EccentricOrbit at April 06, 2016 02:43 PM (GtPd7)

8

The Cessna may be cheap but the pilot isn't. Pilot training is ridiculously expensive, and American pilots don't like to think of themselves as being expendable.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 06, 2016 03:37 PM (+rSRq)

9 Sorry that wasn't clear: I was thinking more along the lines of something robotic: Cheap cruise missiles via jury rigged autopilot system or something.

Though some of our enemies probably wouldn't mind the human cost.

Posted by: EccentricOrbit at April 06, 2016 03:57 PM (GtPd7)

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