Extreme screen identification

June 4, 2007

Where are we, exactly, when sitting in front of computer screens and the like? Where is “on” the net? Is presence entirely physical? Maybe just a silly thought, but I’ve been stumbling on articles recently about the oddities of networked communication – software engineers in India working for companies in New York adapting to the time zone of New York, even its culture and forms of communication, as a result feel divorced from their own environment.


From Bots on the Ground, at the Washington Post, by Joel Garreau:

“Last month, the Army announced that it would allow unmanned air vehicle (UAV) operators to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross, the high military honor awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in flight.

When Greg Harbin was piloting one of the first Predators over Bosnia from his desk in Hungary, he wasn’t actively trying to become the first UAV operator in history to be awarded a medal. He was trying to avoid becoming the first UAV pilot to incinerate a schoolyard full of children.

The then-32-year-old Air Force captain’s bot was “dead square right over the city” of Mostar, looking for snipers, when its engine conked out. As it spiraled down, still carrying 2,000 gallons of fuel, Harbin could see on his screen, through the cross hairs of the nose camera, that “it was dead-centered on that school. If I’d allowed that thing to hit into that school, could you imagine?” he recalls. “I would be the first guy in the history of the world to kill somebody with an unmanned aircraft.”

Using the kind of fancy flying he’d learned as a fighter pilot, and only the 15 minutes’ worth of battery power he had left, he miraculously pulled the bot out of its spiral and found an airstrip run by the French. To make sure the barely-under-control bot didn’t hit all their transport planes, he intentionally crash-landed it on their runway. “The French were pretty funny on the radio. They didn’t know what it was. They videotaped the whole thing.”

But that’s not the significant part.

As he was struggling to bring the bot down without an engine, he could see “the ground coming real fast.” He dropped the landing gear, flared the wings, pushed the stick forward and then started fumbling around at the bottom of his desk chair.

He had bonded so tightly with the machine hundreds of miles away that he was searching for the lever that would allow him to eject.”

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