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Jay Evensen: Delivery drones are coming — resistance is futile

Published: Thursday, Dec. 5 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

So here’s the plan: We wait until al-Qaida’s top sinister operatives order some evil thing on Amazon, then when the delivery drone shows up, it blasts them.

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So here’s the plan: We wait until al-Qaida’s top sinister operatives order some evil thing on Amazon, then when the delivery drone shows up, it blasts them.

Call it life finally imitating a Bugs Bunny cartoon, or at the very least a future that finally resembles the one George Jetson implanted in the brains of virtually every American my age.

With a twist, that is. Ol’ George never had to worry about keeping his anti-virus software up to date lest Rosie, the robot housekeeper, would start stealing him blind.

When Jeff Bezos told "60 Minutes" last week that Amazon is planning to use unmanned flying robots to make home deliveries, it gave us all a sneak peek into the next phase of the wonderful world of the future.

It should have given us all a little more than a twinge of angst, as well.

Teenagers might not be able to imagine it, but you don’t have to be much older than 30 to recall a time when it was impossible to reach into your pocket and instantly know the latest news, see an exact block-by-block picture of real-time weather in your area, watch TV or listen to radio from any station on planet Earth or carry on a video phone call.

Of course, those were the days when a virus meant only that you needed bed rest, not that your bank accounts, photos, letters and your very identity were about to be stolen and sold to some stranger who could be anywhere on Earth.

Most of us have silently agreed to put up with these tradeoffs as we purchase our smart devices. But it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with all the tradeoffs, not to mention the many ways people out there are scheming to turn technology against us.

Bezos had no sooner ended his television interview Sunday when the Russian news channel RT came out with a report on a U.S. mastermind who has developed a low-cost drone that can intercept other drones by Wi-Fi and hijack their controllers. With an evil cackle, your neighbor could grab all your orders, then send the delivery drones innocently back to Amazon with no memory of what happened.

If the economy is to be revived, it may just be by all the jobs that will be needed to keep drones, driverless cars and other robots from succumbing to viruses that will make us long for the days of bed rest in front of daytime television reruns — played on analog televisions that were impervious to hackers.

"Star Trek" taught us that resistance is futile. Science fiction may not have coined a truer phrase.

The folks of Deer Trail, Colo., will vote next month on a plan to issue hunting permits allowing townsfolk to shoot drones on site. That’s a quaint notion, but there may not be enough bullets in the world.

If there is one thing we have come to understand in a rapidly changing computer and Internet age, it is that technology will find a way to wash over traditional life, regardless of whatever people or regulations try to stand in the way. The FAA has until 2015 to write new rules for robots in the sky, but by then it may be hard to rein in all those critters. The best we can do is to figure out ways to adapt and adopt, while we add more ways in which we need to keep our guard up.

True, a delivery drone on the doorstep may require an extra dose of antacid simply because President Obama is simultaneously sending similar devices to the doors of the nation’s enemies, with intent to kill. But some of our most useful technologies started out as military inventions. And your delivery may be protected by police drones, which already hover over parts of the nation.

In the dizzying world of technological advances, people of my generation can marvel that drones, smart cars and private spacecraft finally may push transportation into the type of future we once envisioned.

We can only hope they won’t deliver, fly and drive us crazy.

Jay Evensen is associate editor of the Deseret News editorial page. E-mail him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his website, www.jayevensen.com.

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