PBS's 'NOVA' explores the 'Rise of the Drones'

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 12:40 PM Written by 

dronesPASADENA, Calif. -- PBS's "NOVA" (9 p.m. Wednesday, WQED) looks at the "Rise of the Drones," pilotless aircraft that have been doing the U.S.'s dirty work in the war zones.

Of course, the U.S. drone program has come under scrutiny, mostly from the left, and it even plays a role in pop culture in Showtime’s “Homeland.”

But don’t expect a lot of that scrutiny in “Rise of the Drones.”

“I think it's correct to say this is not a public affairs show and that I think that the issues would be handled in a different way on a public affairs show,” said “NOVA” senior executive producer Paula S. Apsell. “In a time‑honored tradition on ‘NOVA’ of presenting military technology, it's my belief that people really have to understand the technology, its capabilities, and where it could take us in the future before they can really evaluate in a reasonable way what the ethics are of the situation.”

Read more after the jump. ...

Producer-director Peter Yost said they did have conversations about how to handle the controversy over drones.

“We obviously wrestled with this, and we did make the ultimate decision to put technology first and foremost in the center,” Yost said. “There have been thousands, if not tens of thousands of media articles about the ethics of this.  It's out there. People are debating it, and I actually think that's wonderful and important, and unresolved, frankly, and it will continue to be chewed over. What is strikingly absent cross those thousands, if not 10,000s of articles, to my mind, is any real understanding or analysis or presentation of what these things really are. Everyone's always talking drones, drones, drones, predator this, predator that.”

Instead, “NOVA” gets into the science of drones and introduces those who built early drones and tested them, including Lt. Gen. (RET.) David Deptula who oversaw the first predator strike in 2001.

“I'm using the term "remotely piloted aircraft,’” Deptula said. "We selected that term for a reason, because they're not autonomous yet. … You actually have somebody sitting there sticking the rudder, flying. … But in every case, you have a human in the loop. Where we're really going to start to move into some of these issues of ethics beyond the individual operating the system is when we do get to the autonomous phase, and quite frankly, you know, the policy issues are so dramatic that I dare say, we have yet to get to the point where you hit a button and say, ‘See you later. Come on back. Tell me where you put those 22,000‑pound bombs.’ I don't think we'll ever get there because the human piece will prevent, appropriately so, a machine from making those kinds of decisions, but we're not there yet.”  

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.