[Review] Technoethical review on commercial drone use

March 14, 2019 ยท 4 minute read

Paper Review 14-03-2018

A technoethical review of commercial drone use in the context of governance, ethics, and privacy

Luppicini, Rocci, and Arthur So. Technology in Society 46 (2016): 109-119.

Aims of the paper

The authors of this paper wish to summarise and draw conclusions from the social and ethical aspects of drone use within the literature so that key areas of social and ethical concern can be identified. They achieve this by conducting a systematic review of all commercial drone literature from 2010 to 2015 through a technoethical lens. The review includes sources from research, magazine and newspaper articles and looks to explore social, governance, privacy and ethical aspects of commercial drone use. The authors’ goal in conducting this meta-analysis is to provide insights into the overall state of public knowledge concerning commercial drone use.

Paper Summary

The paper begins with a brief background, referencing many studies, into drone legislation and drone ethics in military and non-military applications and clearly states the impact that public discourse and ethics has on law-makers (e.g. 2016 FAA Drone ruling). Following this a summary of methodology of how they conducted the research - their chosen source materials and data sources - are provided. In total 36 articles were selected for analysis after a systematic search of research articles, newspapers, and magazine publications.

Following this, they present their key findings and analysis. In summary (presented in table 2), the key issues are:

  • Safety and Privacy
  • Ethics and Morals
  • Legality - air space and information integrity
  • Human vs Machine
  • Commercial Concerns

With safety and legality being the most frequently cited concerns in connection with commercial drone use. The author then enters a lengthy discussion into specific arguments for and against drones within each of these issue categories with the use of quotes from a large variety of sources from researchers, journalists and city officials. Many of those quotes, however still appear to focus on security and video recording. Both positive and negative outcomes are discussed. In the meta-analysis, 3 meta-themes are presented:

  1. Safety is only a concern for non-military applications (knock on effects in legislation)
  2. Ethical decision making is not-oft discussed anywhere
  3. Commercial drone use has disrupted customs, practices, beliefs and behaviour of daily lives

Finally a technoethical discussion is conducted stemming from the lack of ethics apparently seen by the authors. 1. Theoretical - Individual ethics vs organisational ethics 2. Historical - From military to commercial 3. Socio-Cultural - Privacy, safety, air space and positive impacts 4. Political - political campaigns and agendas 5. Economic - Delivery and investment returns 6. Stakeholders - Ethical laws governing both large corporations and individuals 7. Influence - Air space and safety again 8. Ends and Side effects - Bans, public backlash and drone overuse 9. Means vs the ends - Law enforcement, licensing and awareness

As summary, safety is currently the most important issue to the public for commercial drones. However the author’s see that too much delay in legislation will push back innovation and future drone developments and the benefits of all concerned.

Paper Review

This was a long, slightly repetitive but very thorough survey and discussion of the ethics of drone use. Both the analysis and the structure of a technoethical discussion provided a strong framework to ensure that all aspects of the ethics were touched on which surpasses several of the other surveys on the same literature. Not only is it fair and unbiased, it very helpfully acknowledges the limitations of this research - which stem from the restricted amount of literature available to the authors.

It must be said that from reading a number of the surveyed papers that the conclusion of safety and privacy being important points is fairly predictable, but it does offer some interesting unexpected insights. For example, I did not realise the extent to which people are concerned about information integrity. I would very much like to see a paper similar to this in a few years time to see the changes in perspectives over time.

On writing style and presentation, the paper is very well written and well organised with almost no stone left unturned. I do believe that the paper thoroughly met its aims by providing a well-rounded insight into the public perception of drones. I would recommend this paper to drone researchers, and, in fact anybody who wishes for a higher level understanding of the state of drones in today’s society as it gives a useful unbiased perspective which would be hard to gain otherwise.