The Federal Aviation Administration announced new regulations today requiring anyone owning a drone between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds to register with the government. With consumer analysts predicting up to one million drones purchased this holiday season, the new rules could affect a lot of people.
But the rules do not include anyone flying for reasons other than recreation – reasons that include business operations – and that is raising question about technology laws across the board and how governments may lag behind the accelerated pace of the technology sector.
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with technology watcher Vivek Wadhwa for a closer look.
What do you make of the FAA’s announcement?
“I could see that the FAA is struggling to come up with a policy that balances the needs for security with the inconvenience that they are going to cause and this is the best that they could come up with given the constraints that they have. I don’t blame them for doing this even though it’s going to be very cumbersome and I’m not convinced it’s going to be very effective.”
What should the FAA be doing?
“The cat is out of the bag. We should have had these discussions a few years ago and programmed drones, or required drones, to have chips that keep them out of secure areas and that also prevent them from being misused. You know, drones could be used for a lot of good — as is being done right now — or a lot of evil. Imagine if the bad guys started arming these drones up with weapons or with bombs and dropping them on public targets.”
Why not outlaw drones?
“Because there are many valid and useful reasons to use these. The fact is that we will be doing delivery using drones. The fact is that we can now optimize construction using drones. The fact is we can do safety checks, we can monitor traffic. Ultimately, we really cannot stop people from building these technologies because they’re so simple to build. You could buy all the parts you need and build your own drone right now. It’s not complex at all.”
A Bard College study cited more than 240 close-call collisions between drones and planes in the last two years.
“This is the world we live in right now — you have technology that can be used for good and it can be used for evil. It started with fire — with fire you could burn down houses, so what if we had banned fire because you could burn down houses with it. The fact is that this is how it is with all advancing technologies. And we’re going to be facing these issues more and more over the next decade because they’re going to be many other technologies that advance in the same way and that cause the same debates that are happening right now with drones.”
Why are legal standards lagging?
“Because things are happening much too fast. Laws are essentially codified ethics. Ethics are a consensus that develop over a period of time. Sometimes it takes over a hundred years to develop a consensus on what’s good and what’s bad and there are dissenting views on all of these things.”
What’s the solution?
“We need to slow down every now and then and we need to be having policy discussions. There are people who understand these technologies, there are people who understand the impact — we need to be bringing them together. Another big fear that I have is that all of these robots we are building, all of these advances that are happening with AI. We’re going to be taking jobs away — I see us headed into a jobless future. But you can’t even have rational discussions on that because people don’t believe that that is going to happen. When we don’t have consensus on the impact of technology, when we don’t understand the issues, it’s very hard to come up with laws.”
“This is the beginning, this is not the end of the debate.”
Is the government regulating drones a step in the right direction?
“It’s the best policy they could have come up with, I’m not sure if it’s what we’re going to have in the future. I think we’re going to be learning as we go and muddling through policy because there are going to be problems with drones being misused. We’re going to have them spying on people’s houses. When Amazon starts delivering its goods via drones we’re going to have another set of debates. This is the beginning, this is not the end of the debate. This is just the FAA trying to get in and do the most sensible thing they could given the time they have to come up with policy.”
- Vivek Wadhwa, fellow at Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. He holds appointments with Singularity University and Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering. He tweets @wadhwa.