Future Implications of Drone Technology from a Skinnerian Perspective

Source: https://flic.kr/p/e2Zjiz

By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

Over the past decade, drones have become commonplace on the battlefield.  In fact, NPR recently reported that the Air Force now recruits more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined.  As with most successful technological innovations, they tend to spill over into new areas.  For example, according to the L.A. Times, the Federal Aviation Administration is preparing the legal structure for police departments around the country to utilize drones in their work.  In addition, the Air Force is currently developing a series of miniature drones designed to mimic birds and flying insects.The spread of drone technology into various facets of society is a perfect example of B. F. Skinner’s (1981) cultural selection.  According to Skinner, innovations are “selected” in a culture when they spread across populations based on their ability to achieve reinforcing consequences for the individuals who utilize them.

In the case of drones, the reinforcers involve the safety of military personnel.  For example, the NPR article cited above discusses how a particular pilot has been flying missions over an undisclosed Asian country for nine years — from a base in Nevada.  An excellent demonstration of what drone pilots may experience comes from this clip in the movie Syriana.  In this regard, drones are unquestionably advantageous.

However, Skinner (1953) also discussed that some practices tend to carry other practices with them including practices regarded as unwanted side effects. As a possible prelude to such effects, last September witnessed the arrest of Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen who attempted to blow up the Pentagon and Capitol building with a remote control plane laden with plastic explosives.

Would the proliferation of drone technology increase the likelihood of such attacks?   Would miniature drones carry the risk that a drone could one day be inside of your home recording your behavior without you ever knowing it was there?  These are questions that will surely be hotly debated in the near future.  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org.

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2 Comments on "Future Implications of Drone Technology from a Skinnerian Perspective"

  1. The danger of drone technology is that our high tech drones are going to continue to spur those we use them against to find ways to strike back against us. Our “safe” pilots are going to become at risk as terrorists become increasingly angry in a way which is waged from afar. Since we are at times attacking wedding parties and schools, the level of hatred spurred by these attacks will lead to more attacks within our borders. In a “fair fight” both sides take risks and expose their men and women to risks. In these fights those who are angry at us have already learned to use our technology against us. This will continue, and drones may be the next path for these responses.

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