Gatling guns, balloon corps, and other weapons introduced during the American Civil War

Conservative magazine The National Interest recently published an article celebrating the technological innovations of the Civil War. While I, for one, am not so keen on this narrative framing…

If there is anything that drives innovation in science and technology, it’s a good old-fashioned war. When you need to kill your enemies faster and deader than they kill you, governments are willing to try nearly anything, no matter how insane it sounds.

That isn’t to say we haven’t gotten amazing technology from war. Rockets, microwaves and radar were all game-changing innovations during battle, but also have turned into essential pieces of our everyday lives, helping humanity even when we aren’t smashing and destroying someone else for looking at us funny.

…I cannot deny that there is something interesting about remembering just what kinds of what weapons we forged to fuck ourselves over, including gatling guns, coal torpedoes, shotgun pistol revolvers, and reconnaissance balloons. Sure, half a million American died over a glorified temper tantrum about whether or not Black people deserve to be treated with the most basic human indignity, rather than as pieces of property — but dammit, the CSS Hunley was the first submarine to successfully sink a boat, and that's an important hallmark of American innovation!

Anyway I clicked on this link by accident but it's weirdly kind of fascinating to realize just how many horrible things we created — things which continue to benefit the mission of American Imperialism — just so that we could further dehumanize Black people. Read the rest

What you need to know about police drone surveillance at protests against police brutality

Technology writer Faine Greenwood has a great piece in Slate about the expansion of police drone surveillance fleets. While there are still many, many reasons to worry about abuses of drone technology and mass surveillance in general, Greenwood takes a look at the legal, technical, and practical limitations of these policing methods. Greenwood essentially argues that, as much as American police officers love to think of themselves as special military tactical forces (often treating normal-ass citizens like enemy combatants), they're really just cosplaying, and their use of drones is part of that:

Unlike a Predator—which is capable of staying aloft for more than a day—these small drones usually have short battery lives, from as little as 16 minutes, when carrying a very heavy camera, to 35 minutes when carrying a lighter sensor. (Drone evasion tip: If you think you’re being followed, duck under a shelter or a convenient tree. You can probably wait the drone’s battery out.)

Police drone users are largely not exempt from the same rules that other drone users must abide by, which include restrictions on flight over people, at night, and beyond the pilot’s “visual line of sight.”

[…]

While a police drone can certainly chase someone for a bit, that doesn’t mean police can readily use drone-collected imagery to identify who that person is. In my research for this piece, I couldn’t find a single example of U.S. law enforcement using facial recognition technology and drone imagery to identify someone in the real world. This almost certainly isn’t because police don’t want to, or because they’ve been legally barred from doing so.

Read the rest

Drone-catching drone portends coming drone arms race

This drone-catching drone video from Airspace Systems suggests that drones and counter-drones will soon be filling the skies. Drone deliveries will be skyjacked by robber drones, then cops and private loss prevention firms will use drones to catch those drones (and probably target all kinds of benign drones). Read the rest

The drone warfare game where you spy on players with your smartphone

"Bycatch" is a term used by fishermen to describe the marine life unintentionally caught in their nets. It's also the name of a card game that deals with a very different sort of collateral damage: civilians killed by drone strikes.