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Drone culture: perspectives on autonomy and anonymity

Abstract

This article addresses the problematic perspectives of drone culture. In critiquing focus on the drone’s apparent ‘autonomy’, it argues that such devices function as part of a socio-technical network. They are relational parts of human–machine interaction that, in our changing geopolitical realities, have a powerful influence on politics, reputation and warfare. Drawing on Žižek’s conception of parallax, the article stresses the importance of culture and perception in forming the role of the drone in widening power asymmetries. It examines how perceptions of autonomy are evoked by drones, to claim that this misperception is a smokescreen that obscures the relational socio-technical realities of the drone. The article therefore argues that a more critical culture of the drone emerges by shifting the focus and perception from autonomy to anonymity. This allows us to engage more fully with the distributed agency and decision-making that define how drones are developed and deployed. Rather than focusing on the drone as a singular, fetishised, technical object, a relational approach to the drone assemblage is proposed that highlights the competing human interests that define and resist drones in global politics and culture.

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Correspondence to Garfield Benjamin.

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Benjamin, G. Drone culture: perspectives on autonomy and anonymity. AI & Soc (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-020-01042-7

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Keywords

  • Drone
  • UAV
  • Culture
  • Parallax
  • Simulation
  • Assemblage
  • Relational
  • Socio-technical