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Summary Bibliography: Sumit Paul-Choudhury

The arguments over the costs and risks of shunting humans up and down gravity wells are well rehearsed. And why should just one person take that first small step onto the Martian surface — and try, inadequately, to explain it — when massively multiple telepresence would let us all take it together? For reference, a radio signal now takes more than 17 hours to reach Voyager 1.

That would allow exploration, and possibly exploitation, at far less physical risk than would be incurred by shuttling humans to and from the lunar surface. Today, we could achieve the same end by issuing human commands over the interplanetary internet. Rovers and drones are not the advance scouts for the eventual human colonisation of the Solar System. They are the human colonisation. As above, so below.

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The basic logic of telerobotic exploration is as unimpeachable on Earth, the next line of the Long Address, as it is in space. The world still contains plenty of locations forbidding to humans for reasons of remoteness, risk or resources. Without the need to accommodate a human being — with all the life-support and weight constraints that implies — a drone aircraft can be any shape or size, as long as it flies.

Without the need for on-board intelligence — the human left on the ground can do the heavy thinking — it need carry only a handful of navigational components much like those found in any smartphone: a data connection, a GPS receiver, an accelerometer, a good battery and better power-management. Drones can explore more tirelessly and safely than any crewed vehicle. Soon they will be everywhere, from lava flows to ice fields, from the stratosphere to the abyss. Drones can sense the world in ways that humans can never emulate: the Voyagers, for example, carry instruments that detect the ionic gusts and breezes of the solar wind.

Turning those into human sensory analogues, via a kind of digital synaesthesia, will give us yet more views on the world. They can also work on scales inaccessible to humans. Imagine riding along with the vast Crossrail diggers carving their way through the clay deep below central London. Or, a bit further into the future, riding the rapids of your own bloodstream with a miniature medibot. Drones — whether traversing air, water, land or space — can voyage to places that humans dare not tread, and reveal wonders that humans cannot see.

But drone discoveries become less wondrous, and more eerie, as they start to survey the works of humanity.


Drones are ultimately just radio-controlled aircraft, and few would consider those to be particularly sinister. Tretch went one better by mounting a camera on the luxuriantly named Scarab QUAD X Stealth-FPV Reconn quadcopter, creating a wholly novel reconnaissance while evading the hazards inherent in any attempt to explore these sites on foot. We are not subject to the fears of the beings below… It is not a criticism of the work, but this is not a human perspective. They live with the constant knowledge that they, and possibly also their friends and family, may be stalked for weeks or months before someone on the other side of the world presses a button that kills them.

Or their friends. Or their family. All-seeing entities that hurl thunderbolts from the sky, seemingly with little care for their targets: what makes drones spookier than model aircraft is the knowledge that they confer untouchability, omniscience and the power of life and death — attributes traditionally reserved for the gods — on invisible entities whom we nonetheless resentfully know to be just as human as ourselves.

Deities slouched on swivel chairs, before stacks of glowing HD screens, in faraway control rooms that we will never see or know.

But gods have their problems, too. Some of this may be down to the unparalleled psychological weirdness of piloting a robotic death machine above a distant land all day before getting into the family jalopy to pick up the kids from school. Meet interesting people! Kill them! But much of the strain is created by long hours and inadequate staffing. An echo of the Voyagers again: scientists peaceably labouring for years to parse their comparatively meagre data dumps.

All those drones will need pilots and analysts too. One solution is to de-skill drone operation.

Arc Forever Alone Drone by Sumit Paul-Choudhury

The process could be taken a step further. In the UK, cameras cluster on every street corner and shop-front. Much of their output is scanned only desultorily, by minimum-waged security desk jockeys. I do better on Turing tests, though. I can give you a complete ingredient list if you like. I can also tell you with confidence that no one has brought explosives into this club. So what do you do in your spare time? I blinked. Some people like them. He laid his hand across mine.

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It was meant as a simple expression of interest. I realized I was blushing, which made me angry, which made me blush more. I get off at 2. He was making his own choices with his own money.

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Where did he get it? When I came out the door at , he was waiting, seemingly. He stood under a light, but his pupils were no more or less dilated than they had been inside the bar. Otherwise, I get pretty stupid. I just spend a lot of time around people.

“Are you telling me,” I said, “that you are a sex machine?”

You were doing a fine job. It would have been a big deal a few years ago, but robot stories are currently out of fashion. We agreed that seemed wasteful. He watched me through half of a pancake before he said:. I thought about it for a minute. More like a really expensive camera. With consent, of course.

Please stop me if I am offending you. In addition, your initial approach gave me reason to suspect you are attracted to me. I think it would be easy to work with you. I also think the ratios of your face and body will appeal to a broad segment of the population. You are very beautiful. I should have been insulted. I was insulted. So far, this seemed like a bad deal to me.

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  8. At the same time, I did, in fact, find the idea of being filmed by him somehow deeply sexy. That ruling was later successfully employed by a student to remove all prohibitions on pornography, whether viewed or created, from the code of conduct. Public relations is of course not happy, but they can hardly deny my ability to give informed consent without opening themselves to other accusations. But that would make me a less impressive marketing tool. By now, I was deep into my third cup of coffee, and feeling very awake.