THE BLOG
09/05/2013 03:46 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

The Spread of Drone Technologies on College Campuses

It is unfortunate that in debating the ethics of drone technology we limit the conversation to machines.

A mechanical drone is an aircraft without a human pilot. The plane is not inner-directed, but is guided remotely, by external controllers. The technology makes it possible for armed aircraft to attack without risk to these authorities. The wishes of the controllers cannot be countermanded by a pilot, and pilot error as a factor is removed from contingency. Opponents of the technology cite ethical reasons why this development in warfare is inhumane. Their arguments are not likely to prevail, because inflicting harm on enemies with minimal risk to oneself is a principal of warfare, dating back at least to the creation of the hand-held shield.

But mechanical drones should be among the least of our worries today, unless one chooses to fret over inevitabilities. A more insidious drone technology is being advocated on college campuses as a matter of rational choice, and this concerns the production of human drones.

A human drone resembles a mechanical drone in that the human drone is directed by an external intelligence, serves the purposes and requirements of that external intelligence, and is not built, or educated, to raise questions, suggest alternatives, or challenge the authority of its controller. A human drone is not a pilot, but is a drudge, someone who defines him or herself solely in terms of externalized marketplace value.

When entering college, the human drone looks not inward for passion and commitment, but outward, for security and validation. Like her mechanical counterpart, the human drone has been created to serve external interests, setting the value of his ideas and thoughts according to the job he secures.

Let's think back a generation, to the 1970s, when college graduates faced a similarly bleak employment outlook. In that era it never occurred to us that the fault was in the broadly defined education we'd received. We were the younger generation, we were convinced that we were more enlightened than our elders and that we were going to make the world a better place by growing into positions of responsibility, once the old ones got out of our way.

In a word, we had tremendous hope. And we had that hope because our elders encouraged it. It was the postwar baby boom era of new schools, new highways, new math. There were also a lot of bad things, like the war in Vietnam, institutionalized racism and sexism - but we were working on change and we were confident we could continue to move history forward. Yes, there was unemployment and inflation and these things were bad also, but they were, and are, cyclical. No one would define self-worth according to such externalities.

I recall friends, who are today settled into good careers, back then actively seeking to avoid career oriented work for a few years after college, in order to explore experiences, hold temporary jobs, and try out different geographies. They did this because they had hope and confidence that the world would be there when they both were ready.

The generation gap was fueled by an unwavering sense of generational superiority. A corrective was inevitable. It is better, today, that we can have cross-generational conversation. But over-correction is abusive. The only superiority claimed by today's youth has to do with managing technology - but technology is what is fueling the droning of the young, turning them into marketplace markers.

What I suspect is that the same generation that felt so superior to its elders fifty years ago now feels equally superior to its children. Our fears are fueling the advance of the human drone technology that is stripping our young of their inner-directed dreams, replacing these dreams with mantras about lifetime earnings and financial payoffs for educational goals. We frighten away the productive, anti-authoritarian impulses of the young with threats about ruined job prospects and intellectual worthlessness. By our own experience we should know better.

A mechanical drone is a real thing; a human drone is no more than an analogy. Analogies are not inevitabilities. Students can resist being hammered into submission. It has always been frightening to be young, to face a world that seems to have figured itself out with a mind that is still being formed and molded and that is hungry for ideas, motives, and passions. This is what it feels like to be young, and confident.

School has started again. Take a close look at yourself, your students, your children, your friends. Do not submit to human drone technology, to a rationale born of hopelessness. Realize the natural, organic superiority of the young, acknowledge their right to the wisdom of the ages, to their own ideas, to creativity, discovery, and audacious change. They will have to listen to us, but we need to listen to them, to grant them the inner-direction necessary to pilot our future.