Valentin, no need to beat around the bush here – you’re calling me a Luddite. I can take it. I hold myself to a big boy standard. But you know what, you are probably right … to a certain degree. As you’ve highlighted, “drone” is indeed a buzzword that almost cartoonishly symbolizes the growing privacy concerns that people are facing. Yes, being inquisitive with how some “free” products offered by companies like Facebook or Google affect our privacy is probably a better exercise in practice. But, how these will affect us in the distant future should be just as imperative as how they affect us now. And in this future tense, this ‘drone as a red-herring’, although not directly, may actually serve some real purpose. So as best of a time as any, let me introduce you to Mr. Murder Gandhi:

“Gandhi is offered a pill that will turn him into an unstoppable murderer. He refuses to take it, because in his current incarnation as a pacifist, he doesn’t want others to die, and he knows that would be a consequence of taking the pill. Even if we offered him $1 million to take the pill, his abhorrence of violence would lead him to refuse.

But suppose we offered Gandhi $1 million to take a different pill: one which would decrease his reluctance to murder by 1%. This sounds like a pretty good deal. Even a person with 1% less reluctance to murder than Gandhi is still pretty pacifist and not likely to go killing anybody. And he could donate the money to his favorite charity and perhaps save some lives. Gandhi accepts the offer.

Now we iterate the process: every time Gandhi takes the 1%-more-likely-to-murder-pill, we offer him another $1 million to take the same pill again.

Maybe original Gandhi, upon sober contemplation, would decide to accept $5 million to become 5% less reluctant to murder. Maybe 95% of his original pacifism is the only level at which he can be absolutely sure that he will still pursue his pacifist ideals.

Unfortunately, original Gandhi isn’t the one making the choice of whether or not to take the 6th pill. 95%-Gandhi is. And 95% Gandhi doesn’t care quite as much about pacifism as original Gandhi did. He still doesn’t want to become a murderer, but it wouldn’t be a disaster if he were just 90% as reluctant as original Gandhi, that stuck-up goody-goody.

What if there were a general principle that each Gandhi was comfortable with Gandhis 5% more murderous than himself, but no more? Original Gandhi would start taking the pills, hoping to get down to 95%, but 95%-Gandhi would start taking five more, hoping to get down to 90%, and so on until he’s rampaging through the streets of Delhi, killing everything in sight.”

This is what is considered “a slippery slope” – a small agreed upon trade off in the beginning of bartering, but eventually, the initial conditions slip off to a complete overhaul of the original principles. Suppose we tell Gandhi this information about slippery slopes before he begins bartering the money for the pills. As the article I quoted above further describes, a possible solution for him to avoid this slip into pure murderous rage would be to incorporate what is called a “Schelling fence” (an extension of the Schelling point, coined by Nobel award-winning economist Thomas Schelling). This would be a pre-decided, somewhat arbitrary fence, that Gandhi would agree never to cross. By doing so, he can cash out on the exchanges until this fence is reached, which at that point, everything will come to a halt and the rest of the slope will never be initiated.

This slippery slope argument is often what is cited when dealing with privacy issues (and free-speech as another example). A small compromise in privacy now, may result in a different playing field in the distant future, where another incremental privacy related compromise may be made. Rinse and repeat, until we’re in a dystopic, 1984, hell-hole of a world.

Schelling fences are a possible solution to the slippery slope conundrum, but mostly in theory and not in practice. They deal with precommitments, which as human beings, we aren’t the best at keeping. As well, Schelling fences are much more difficult to coordinate or even establish when there are multiple interest groups involved. However, what this does highlight is that the general issue of short-term policy making that has severe consequences in the unknown, technologically-advanced, and culturally varied future, is an especially difficult problem to solve. It is even further amplified in dealings with privacy, as going backward seems almost impossible once it initially has been compromised. So here comes my thesis point: the ‘luddite’-esque nature of ‘drones’ or similar concerns help us overreact to short-term privacy issueswhich may reflectively be an underreaction in the future. Of course, this is assuming that we are on a potential downwards slippery slope.

So to answer your question directly, I think it may be good to keep around some Luddite-type fears, like the ‘symbolic’ drone, specifically in regards to privacy issues, to avoid the unknown potential downfall on a slide with no bearing in sight.



If you’re going to a bar, and you’re trying to get your drone on, does that mean you’re going to try and get with the hottest girl there, aka the queen bee? I mean, at the very least, we can try and incorporate this into the mainstream lingo. Maybe create an entry in Urban Dictionary? It can possibly, if ever so slightly, ameliorate the current ‘demolition’ / ‘hell-inducing’ type connotations associated with ‘drone’. Your friends at UTIAS would appreciate it.

~ R