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First Tuesday current affairs discussion - Tuesday 3 September 7:00pm start
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Welcome to the Drone Age?

October 2015

Andy Miah, Anna Frew and James Woudhuysen introduced a discussion on the ethics of drone flight


Andy Miah

Commercial drone use has dramatically expanded in recent years, with an increasingly inventive set of uses. Drones have been deployed in fields as diverse as aerial photography and humanitarian relief whilst retailers in Japan have even started to use them to deliver products (Amazon’s much-vaunted Prime Air is still in prototype testing). While much attention has been focused on their military functions and use by law enforcement – Indian police have purchased ones which could be used to pepper spray protestors – yet their increasing affordability and commercial ubiquity poses numerous problems for regulators. Dutch feminist campaigners were able to fly abortion pills into Poland to circumvent its restrictions on reproductive healthcare, whilst there are increasing numbers of injuries created by their use: the singer Enrique Inglesias was one high profile casualty, with a drone nearly severing his fingers on stage. There have already been several near-misses with passenger aircraft.


Anna FrewWhile new technologies are often praised by their ‘disruptive’ qualities, law-makers have had to act swiftly to regulate their civilian use. Yet, as with the development of the driverless car, there are also profound questions about how drones alters human relationships with technology. The use of drones in Chinese schools to prevent students cheating in exams is merely the latest example of the ethical questions raised by rapidly advancing surveillance techniques. Moreover, increased automation through smarts systems and advanced robotics in the ‘second machine age’ raises serious economic challenges, with the delivery and freight sectors only among the most visible jobs threatened by the use of drone technology. Yet others remain more skeptical about drones’ large scale commercial capabilities, as well as Western societies’ willingness to adapt to their needs.


James Woudhuysen

Are we on the brink of a new Drone Age or will their impact be more niche and specialist? What economic and legal barriers exist to their development, and can they be overcome? How should the authorities balance the benefits of allowing the freedom to experiment with the potential hazards and risks new technologies create? Outside of military and security purposes, will they have a transformative effect on how we live, or are they more akin to advanced consumer gadget?


Some background readings

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Aerial Systems, Big Brother Watch’s briefing note on drones

Drones: time to reach for the skies, by James Woudhuysen, December 2014

Islamic State conflict: UK 'would repeat Syria drone strike', BBC News 08-Sept-2015


Venue and Time

Media City UK

In the University of Salford Campus @ MediaCityUK Plot B4, Salford Quays, M50 2HE. Please arrive in plenty of time for a prompt 2:00pm start - expected to finish around 3:30pm. Tickets are free but need to be booked in advance via Eventbrite, or by Emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


This discussion, including audience comments, will be filmed and made available online as a reference resource.


Discussion Partners

This discussion, including audience comments, and will be recorded, hopefully filmed, to be made available shortly after the discussion online as a reference resource.

Manchester Science Festival

The Manchester Salon is joining the fabulous Manchester Science Festival for the sixth year running, itself celebrating its seventh year. With over 200 events for families and adults, you can expect an exciting nine days of cutting-edge research, the brightest minds and amazing events. You’ll have the chance to delve into immersive experiences, explore the science of the city by foot, join in the debate, enjoy hands-on activities, see awe-inspiring films and much more. Watch out for trailblazers throughout the year and join us at events throughout Greater Manchester during 23 October - 2 November 2015.


Battle of IdeasThis discussion is a satellite event of the prestigious Battle of Ideas 2015 weekend festival of ideas being held on 17 and 18 October 2015, hosted by the Barbican, London. Now in its eleventh year, the Battle of Ideas festival comprises 350 speakers at 75 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. It affords the opportunity for some clear thinking, rational debate and agenda-setting - above all, it's future-orientated, whilst retaining a healthy regard for the past achievements of humanity.


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