Monday, February 18th, 2019

USM professor gives talk on drones

Posted on April 19, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By Bryer Sousa, Free Press Staff

On Wednesday, April 13, USM English Professor John Muthyala served as a facilitator of critical cultural reflection and as an educator as he presented a talk titled “Drones: Weapons of War or Tools for Entertainment” to students and members of the community in 423 Glickman Library.

In Professor Muthyala’s presentation, two questions were explored as part of the  Faculty Lecture Series that was brought about by the Department of English, those questions being: “How do digital tools, systems, and networks extend, justify, or contain America’s role in the world? And what impact do they have on society, culture, and liberal democracy?”

Professor Muthyala elaborated on the two aforementioned questions due to the fact that he is penning a book  concerned with surveillance cultures and drones. Moreover, his intellectual endeavors are concerned with various questions in disciplines such as the digital humanities, globalization studies, the literature of the Americas and cultural criticism. In fact, Professor Muthyala has authored two books, Reworlding America: Myth, History, and Narrative and Dwelling in American: Dissent, Empire, and Globalization.

When asked about how he arrived at the title of the talk, Professor  Muthyala stated that “It [the title] was framed in that way to avoid the perception that drone technology is inherently oriented only towards control, surveillance, and destruction, at least in the way that drones have captured the public imagination, that is, primarily as tools of state violence. Because of the rapid infusion of technology into society, the commercialization of drone technology has also started and that has lead to the application of drone tech in a variety of contexts.”

Professor Muthyala expanded upon the contexts, by noting that “Researchers in both private and public universities are using drones to survey the impact of rising sea levels in areas they simply could not reach… We have drones being used for natural disasters to access humanly impossible to reach areas to watch a dissipate things they could not do without this technology, especially where time is of the essence, for example, in the case of an apartment building fire.”

Nevertheless, rather than simply highlighting the fact that drones can be used for enhancing public safety and just causes, Professor Muthyala also delved into the state-violence-based nature of drone use as well. “In this lecture, I was going to focus primarily on the military aspects and American foreign policy,” he said. He continued by explaining that “One of the things that the Obama administration has done is move beyond the personality drone strike strategy that the Bush administration employed. The personality based strike was oriented towards understanding and assessing individuals’ behaviors, for example, who they were meeting and what they were doing… Obama moved that into a entirely different realm with his signature strike strategy, which exams patterns of behavior among large groups of people, irrespective of the individual nature of an activity. Thus we have instances where the parameters of the strike can be indiscriminate.”

Professor Muthyala concluded our conversation by stating that “Drones and surveillance systems inaugurate a new dispensation of empire. While changing our sense of space and time they are altering notions of war and peace, guilt and innocence, visibility and invisibility, security and the greater common good.”

Following the interview with Professor  Muthyala, Catherine, a student of the University of Southern Maine, was asked what her views are with respect to the utilization of drone technology. “It seems irresponsible to put innocents at risk by way of algorithms and artificial intelligence. Drones shouldn’t be the first resource used in international diplomacy. It is dumbfounding to me,” she stated.

To read a recent article by Professor Muthyala, please see “Whither the Digital Humanities?” For another perspective on the militarized employment of drones in international affairs, one may be interested in a column written prior to this presentation, titled “The Millennials Conscience, On The Drone Papers,” published by The Free Press.


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