Welcome to the Drone Age?

Saturday 24 October, 14.00 until 15.30, MediaCityUK, Salford, M50 2EQ UK Satellites

Commercial drone use has dramatically expanded in recent years, with an increasingly inventive set of uses. Drones have been deployed in fields as diverse as aerial photography and humanitarian relief, while retailers in Japan have even started to use them to deliver products (Amazon’s much-vaunted Prime Air is still in prototype).

Much attention has been focused on their military functions and use by law enforcement; Indian police have purchased drones that could be used to pepper spray protestors. Conversely, Dutch feminist campaigners were able to fly abortion pills into Poland to circumvent its restrictions on reproductive healthcare. And more prosaically, the singer Enrique Inglesias became a high-profile drone casualty when one near severed his fingers on stage. There have already been several near-misses with passenger aircraft as well, so drones’ increasing affordability and commercial ubiquity poses numerous problems for regulators.

Meanwhile, as with the driverless car, there are also profound questions about how drones alter human relationships with technology. The use of drones in Chinese schools to prevent students cheating in exams is merely the latest example of the ethical questions raised by rapidly advancing surveillance techniques. Moreover, increased automation through smart systems and advanced robotics in the ‘second machine age’ raises serious economic challenges, with jobs in the delivery and freight sectors only among the most visible threatened by the use of drone technology.

Are we on the brink of a new Drone Age or will their impact be more niche and specialist? What economic and legal barriers exist to their development, and can these be overcome? How should the authorities balance the benefits of allowing the freedom to experiment with the potential hazards and risks new technologies create? Outside of military and security purposes, will they have a transformative effect on how we live, or are they more akin to advanced consumer gadgets?

Emma Carr
director, Big Brother Watch

Professor Andy Miah
chair in science communication & digital media, University of Salford

James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
Simon Belt IT consultant; coordinator, Manchester Salon

follow the Academy of Ideas


Keep up to date with Academy of Ideas news and events by joining our mailing list.

Next year's festival will be packed with more debates like this one. If you would like to come, get your ticket now via our 2016 tickets page.
Session partners

in association with