The Second Amendment Isn’t Prepared for a 3D-Printed Drone Army
Is technology going to cause a Constitutional crisis?
Image: John Lund/Getty Images
Imagine this: A disgruntled citizen borrows $30,000 from his credit cards. With the money he buys a sophisticated 3D printer off eBay and begins secretly printing and building a hundred drones in his garage. Then he downloads internet blueprints of 3D gun printing tech that can be adapted to arm his drones.
The terrorist decides he wants some of his drones outfitted to carry droppable Molotov cocktails and glass containers of hydrochloric acid. He pre-programs some of the drones to shoot or crash into specific targets using over-the-counter navigation software. Other drones the terrorist plans to fly himself.
He decides to target the downtown of a city, or a college campus, or a crowded strip mall, or even a football stadium during a playoff game. He's created a warzone with his drone army.
Welcome to the new world of terrorism. This type of attack hasn't happened yet, but the technology to do it is already here—and getting cheaper and more easily accessible every day.
In 20 years, weapons will likely exist that we haven't even thought of yet
As a US presidential candidate and US citizen, I want protection from this kind of thing from the US Constitution. Unfortunately, it's not coming—not because the constitution is an unworthy document, but because it was written with quill pens by patriots whose ideas of weapons in 1787 was a musket or a sword. Technology is outpacing the law, and few people are aware at how vulnerable this phenomenon is leaving citizens.
The Second Amendment reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The key word there is "arms."
The landmark 2008 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which helped define the term "arms," established that an individual has the right to own a firearm for lawful reasons, including self-defense in one's residence.
But this doesn't clear up whether a person can have an on-demand armed drone army in their garage at home. In the near future, that little word "arms" is going to become even more controversial than it has been. Just think of the Iron Man suit, something the military is already developing. Is that a type of weapon, if you wore it and walked into a bank? What about a driverless car transporting dynamite on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge? How about a smartphone that puts out physically hurtful sound waves—something that scientists are working on?
The point is, what the founding fathers considered necessary freedoms to protect a free state is changing dramatically—and political confusion is abundant. Tech development—even if Moore's law can't hold up—grows tremendously every year. In 20 years, weapons will likely exist that we haven't even thought of yet. Take, for example, the field of military cybersecurity, which barely was a thing a decade ago and now is a major concern.
So how can a nearly 230-year-old document keep up? Take a deep breath loyal constitutionalists—and repeat after me: It can't. The US Constitution has to be gutted. We need to create a constitution that's malleable and ready to adjust radically every few years to changing times and accelerating technology. And that document must throw nearly all historical precedent out the door.
Look at the coming times we face. There's no historical framework to instruct us for whether we should grant conscious, sapient robots personhood and citizenship. Or whether only the rich have access to genetic editing tech that literally improves children's IQ before they're born. Or whether a Universal Basic Income should be implemented because of mass automization. The US Constitution just can't keep up—and honestly, nor can our three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. There's just too much going on with radical science and tech innovation.
Consider my biohacker friends trying to replace eating and world hunger by splicing photosynthesis capabilities into their bodies. This gives me a chuckle when considering the Constitution, since many of the founding fathers were farmers. What would they think? The end of food? Why not? It would solve a lot of problems.
There's no historical framework to instruct us for whether we should grant conscious, sapient robots personhood and citizenship
All these issues add up to why I'm endorsing a newly written Transhumanist Bill of Rights that aims to add language to the US Bill of Rights. But my futurist document doesn't help other parts of the US Constitution out much, since the Constitution also tackles ideas way beyond personhood and personal rights—and instead focuses on how a country out to be run.
Back to the terrorist and the $30,000 drone army in his garage. In a quickly changing environment, the safety of citizens and its people rest with sound policy that prepares them for conflict and catastrophe before they happen—or to avoid it entirely. While I believe in the right to bear some arms (and have been to war zones as a journalist where people didn't have guns and were being crushed by occupying forces), some lone person attacking the downtown of a major city with a drone army is too much for me.
The Second Amendment was put in place to protect a free state and its people, and to give individuals that power to do so. Now in a world where it's possible within 25 years a 3D printer will be able to help mostly print a dirty bomb that can take out a whole city, I wonder if the amendment can hold out.
In fact, I'm guessing that entire new wording and interpretations will have to be drawn up to address the issues. It'll certainly have to address that personal drones, robots, and cyberterror are the future of arms, and not guns.
America is changing. It's not because people, their desire for freedom, or their morals are much different than 200+ years ago, but because technology is changing the rules and maybe even the entire game. We better rewrite our policies and laws soon. Maybe we even better start from scratch.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.