Monday, July 6, 2009

Here Come Floating Prosumer Probes... Or Not...

Remember the floating Imperial probe droid (images) sent to the surface of the ice planet Hoth to systematically check for Rebel activity? Like many other speculative sci-fi concepts, it is proving to be a harbinger of things to come, especially now that steady hovering humming-bird-inspired flight has been prototyped and is actively being developed:


AeroVironment video showing progress with testing of a tiny flapping-wing "nano air vehicle" (NAV) designed to fly indoors. Testing culminated in a 20sec flight of an interim test vehicle, called Mercury, which demonstrated controlled hovering flight using a pair of flapping wings for propulsion and control. AeroVironment is now building a prototype for DARPA that will be samller, lighter and will closley resemble a hummingbird.

As such devices drop in cost they will dramatically expand the physical phase space for sensing devices (video, thermal, radar, sonar, networked, etc - all also quickly dropping in cost). No doubt people will seek to use them to film movies & reality shows, lifelog their behavior/environment, probe quantification-resistant environments, bolster security systems, and so forth. Together with many new technologies, floating hummingbird platforms will help to further catalyze prosumer opportunities and the increased input of information into the web and distributed human brains.

At the same time, the technology will represent a defensive security nightmare (recall the Hunter Seeker in Frank Herbert's Dune), further contributing to asymmetric concerns.

The question is: Will these devices proliferate or be thwarted by strict regulation?

Will I have 20 networked hummingbirds at my disposal in 2020 - all kept in check by security protocols and swarms of govt/public/safety counter-bots? Or will their use be restricted to the select few? Might technological and informational zoning be part of the solution? Or will it turn into a distributed free-for-all?

How on Earth will our distributed social systems cope with the steady, simultaneous emergence of amazing micro-techologies? Will we implement top-down technology freezes, trust to bottom-up evolution and self-regulation or turn to immune systems for guidance?

The quest for answers will require a great deal of social processing power.

About Alvis Brigis

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Alvis Brigis is a media specialist and futurist residing in California. Most recently, he was Story Producer on History Channel’s Invention USA and Executive Producer for The Future of Facebook, the first Open Foresight project to be funded and released to the public. He’s produced and written for TV networks including NBC, VH1, THC and Sundance Channel. Brigis co-founded Future Scanner (a prediction harvesting tool), Swarmado (a mobile content-sharing app for events) and has developed a variety of forward-looking startups. He serves on the advisory board of Acceleration Studies Foundation and blogs about the social side of accelerating change at Social Node. He’s also an avid sci-fi, comedy and quest adventure writer + co-creator of animated silicon valley satire Steve Ice.