Can drones ever be a neutral technology?

The article by Chris Sandbrook on “The social implications of using drones for biodiversity conservation” is aptly named and raises questions about the development of drone technology beyond its usefulness for research (2015) . I do realize that I am already biased against drones and that was especially obvious when I read the phrase “we are entering the drone age” (638) and my immediate thoughts were of diminished privacy and increased tracking. Perception of technology is as important as the actual capabilities and results of using that technology.

One point to which Sandbrook drew my attention was that we can all too easily end up narrowing down the understanding of drones to a good or bad binary. An important example of how this elimination of more nuanced views can be detrimental is one of drones being used to catch poachers; the drones “promote simplistic narratives of ‘good’ conservationists and ‘evil’ poachers, thereby undermining understanding of this complex issue among the wider public” (641). Furthermore, what will be the reaction if drones are used for multiple projects of varying intent in the same area? Can we really expect people with minimal technological expertise to accept and embrace drones being used for “good” conservation work while simultaneous “bad” military or third party surveillance is happening? More importantly, should we?

I especially like the emphasis on framing drones in a more holistic sense; this seems to speak to GIScience development of drones versus short-term driven tool use. However, this article felt a bit brief and could have expanded on certain points. For example the almost self-contradicting potential recommendation to remove sensitive data related to identification and privacy before the information is passed on versus the warning that hackers could access said sensitive information would have been interesting to read about in more depth. Overall, Sandbrook provides a reasonable argument that drones are not the solution to conservation struggles but rather a potential to-be-investigated part of the solution.


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