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What is Post-Drone? Part III: Getting Past the Hype

What is Post-Drone? Part III: Getting Past the Hype

Cutting edge technology is almost always buggy.  So what happens when we get it all right? Where do we go when technology actually fulfills the fantastical promises of decades past? How can we imagine a future where advanced technological systems actually work?

This is where we enter into the second phase of our post-drone imaginings.  As a refresher, the previous post in this series tried to engage with an earlier progression of advanced robotic technologies.  This “near-term post-drone” aimed to envision a technological sphere where drones were almost there – not fully functional, yet deployed nonetheless.  Moving beyond these prototypical technologies, this particular blog entry will deal with a speculative future where the near-term post-drone has been fast-forwarded a few decades into a realm of actual functionality.  This mid-term post-drone will in all likelihood actually do what the tech industry has been trying to accomplish since the days of IBM and Unix.  For the purposes of a constructive discussion, we will assume that the mid-term post-drone technologies will just work, and work well.  From speech recognition algorithms to computer vision software, glitches will be eradicated.  This signals an age where de-bugging will be eclipsed by actual innovation.  However it might sound, this is by no means a utopia.

In all definitions of the term “post,” this version of our discussion is the closest to how post-isms are widely understood today.  From postmodernism to post-colonialism to post-literacy, we understand “post” as signifying an entry into a cultural mode where the initial hype games have been done away with.  In this world, the classical modernist virtues of progress, linearity, and humanistic achievement have been torn asunder by the chaotic apathy of the post-Hiroshima political sphere.  Affectively speaking, post-drone is no different.  Perhaps one of the more productive analogs for this specific flavor of over-the-hype-ness can be found within Florian Cramer’s discussion in What is Post-digital?  As described in this freely distributed .rtf file, Cramer explains:

“The term 'post-digital' can be used to describe either a contemporary disenchantment with digital information systems and media gadgets, or a period in which our fascination with these systems and gadgets has become historical – just like the dot-com age ultimately became historical in the 2013 novels of Thomas Pynchon and Dave Eggers.” (my emphasis)

For Cramer and other theorists dealing with the inflated cyber-libertarian agendas of Silicon Capitalism, new media is old news.  The wild-west mentality of the early net has been foreclosed upon by the corporate motives of Facebook’s Edgerank and Google’s datafication.  Gibson’s Neuromancer and Stevenson’s Snow Crash seem like quaint memories of a time when cyberspace seemed like an anarchic utopian dreamscape.  Importantly, this theorization of the post-digital understands the initial promises of the embryonic, cyber-punk, 1993 Internet as either already fulfilled or, depressingly, already colonized by vapidity and capital.

For both the post-digital and the post-drone, it would seem as if the technology has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The initial instantiations of algorithmic prediction and large-scale data mining have reached their completion.  This is the pure expression of a function – the inner logic of the system has been taken to such extremes that the system itself seems too reveal its deepest secrets.  For the Internet, this has manifested in the post-Snowden mentality of surveillant culture.  Where there were once utopian prospects for democracy, there is now only anxiety.  This systemic reveal will occur for the mid-term post-drone future in the form of an analogous over-the-hype-ness.  As signaled by the resurgence of post-digital aesthetics, we can begin to imagine a world where the social upheaval of drone technologies has already occurred.  The technology has been perfected to the point of saturation, and there is literally nothing new to offer.  Mid-term post-drone society has moved on from the initial promise (whatever that was) of unmanned surveillant technologies, and instead has learned to coexist in an environment where autonomous robotics has already reached critical mass.  Any promise for empowerment or agency has become fictive, and drone technologies have instead moved into the realm of normalcy. 

This imagined future is indeed a strange place, and one that bears some uncanny resemblance to our dealings with the Internet today.  I like to imagine the mid-term post-drone as an enormous cityscape where unmanned robotics are employed in the vast majority of labor tasks.  Machine learning and computer vision have reached the perfect level of humanistic symbiosis, and Western culture has been left to cope with the immense social upheavals of the post-drone.   The hype bubble has been popped, and we are to reconcile the gap that has been leveraged between what we thought drone technologies could accomplish and what has actually occurred.  Has the world become a safer place?  Has the human experience become enriched as a result of the increased leisure time enabled by task-automation? Perhaps we have even found new friends in our perfected robotic counterparts (Jonze’s Her comes to mind as an interesting example).  At the moment, it is impossible to answer such questions.  Drones are just beginning their hype-tour, and technological development has only just begun to understand the capabilities of autonomous robotic technologies.  For now, we can only imagine what this future might look like.

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