Drones + Biometrics: Weapons That Conquer Globalization’s Frontiers

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Coming to a theater (of operations) near you

Cool NYT story on the US military’s use of biometrics (eye scans, etc.) to create unforgeable identification records of roughly one-in-five fighting-age Iraqi and Afghani males, creating databases that can be perused in seconds by a handheld device at a border crossing. Naturally, there is much interest and some desire to use the same technology here in the States, along with the usual fears of loss of privacy.  Trust me, along with drones, these frontier-settling technologies will most definitely infiltrate our society in coming years, just like the military’s Internet and GPS did before.

The results will be similar: that much more capacity for individuals to be identified, tracked and watched, meaning anti-social behavior will become that much harder to pull off. As usual the libertarians will spot the end of freedom, but for those of us not interested in committing terror, crimes and mischief, the larger truth is that we’ll actually experience more freedom from all of those things.

Recently deceased U. Michigan political economist C.K. Prahalad wrote about conquering the markets located at the “bottom of the pyramid” – i.e., the lower-income bands of the global economy. My work (“Pentagon’s New Map” onward) has long been focused on those same bands, but in a security sense (what I call globalization’s “non-integrated gap” regions).Prahalad wrote about “reverse innovation”: figuring out how to sell to the bottom of the pyramid would teach global corporations how to sell to its upper (developed) reaches. In the security realm, the drones and biometrics, which at first glance are a bit too touchy for initial “sales” to advanced societies, find their original usage in my non-integrated gap regions, where frontiers need settling. But eventually those “frugal innovations” (another biz term of art) make their way into globalization’s core economies, forever altering the security landscape there.

The result will be the same the world over: the end of off-grid locations, no where to hide, etc.  You will be held responsible for what you do. There will be no frontiers left in which you can disappear. Anti-globalization forces like al-Qaeda will spring up here and there along this historical pathway, and each will have their moments before succumbing.

But this is the real and unassailable path toward “victory” (a misplaced term to be sure) in the long war against violent extremism, which didn’t begin with 9/11 and didn’t end with Osama bin Laden’s death.