Robots, IoT, Drones (RID) and Zombies


The future is hard to predict when the present is torn between the living, the living dead, and the never have lived at all. We don’t know the demographics of robots, sensors of the Internet of Things (IoT), learning machines, and drones. Of course, the count of zombies is unknown because they could very well be increasing at any time. Robots, Internet of Things, and Drones (RID) is advertised as new technological miracles.

If we think that humanity lives in valley of obsolescence, we are asked to favor machines or zombies. My acronym of RIDz points to a “rise of the machines” and the decline of the “human” species. It is clear that the “last hope of humanity” resides in women facing great danger even at the bottom of the technological and human barrel. (See: “Mad Max, Fury Road”) Zombies fill the gap between the still living and the never living. If you watch CW’s program, “iZombie,” the young female seems very much alive and cozies up to the dead in the coroner’s center of a hospital. Brains, situated in an antiseptic environment, make convenient snacks and carry out. Because she works in a hospital, one wonders if she will hook up with surgical robots and medical sensors – but not with the doltish medical records system –instead of the other zombies who are “coming out.” Literally, closer to home, the State of Kansas made zombie apocalypse an acceptable training exercise for the State militia. There are probably private militias doing that as well.

RID’s role in administration is rapidly increasing for medicine, “smart cities,” retail, and farming. This trend exponentially increases without much oversight in spite of FAA’s futile attempts. In IT publications, RID analyses and advertising themselves are constant streams of data. Telemedicine has been used for many years. Now doctors can remotely do surgery, but not through an autonomous robot. Retail sales can be tracked in near real time when and where customers have bought and are sent immediate discount notices based a few meters of location. Agricultural agencies or firms can collect boundary, soil, and crop yield data via RID.

Again zombies exempted, “cybernetics” has been the name of RID since the 1950s. You probably know that a “Universal Turning Machine” (1936) combined an analogue computer and a robot that could perpetually compute and manage itself. (Stuart A. Umpleby, A Brief History Of Cybernetics In The United States, Research Program in Social and Organizational Learning, George Washington University, 2008; Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: a history of Soviet Cybernetics, 2002) In 1950, the father of cybernetics defined information: ”information is a measurable quantity, and that it can only be studied on a statistical basis.” In the 1960s, Gregory Bateson emphasized that “…the subject matter of cybernetics is not events or objects but the information ‘carried’ by events and objects. We consider the objects or events only as proposing facts, propositions, messages, precepts, and the like.” “Machine learning” is a feedback loop, which is metaphorically applied to the long-ago electrical mechanism of a thermostat.

The industrial dreams of the past still shape the technological labor for the future. At the 1939 World’s Fair, General Motors set up a gallery where people could see interstate highways and self-driving cars; Westinghouse created the “Electro” fake robot, which was a precursor to the iconic B9 robot on “Lost in Space in 1965. These were the fantasies now coming true of a technically skilled household or administrative assistant. The “iRobot” company ( “designs and builds robots that make a difference in people’s lives.” Either for cleaning a human’s house or for killing them through military applications, iRobot makes “unmanned ground vehicles [to] reduce risk to personnel, operate downrange, report data and deliver predictive intelligence/ISR.” ISR is defined as “an activity that synchronizes and integrates the planning and operation of sensors, assets, and processing, exploitation, and dissemination systems in direct support of current and future operations.” ( In “iZombie,” the character ‘Liv Moore’ — aka “live more” (Rose McIver) –inherits the memories of brains she eats to preserve her humanity, and she helps solve crimes, while trying to protect the city from new conniving smart zombies. Today’s evolved earthly zombies differ from the emotionless body snatchers dropped from space, in the original movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” (1956), who really served no purpose. Now brains are for eating, and not for extending science and culture. Robots are a menace to humanity, and not a “labor saving” device.

What administrative purpose does RID serve? Robots, drones, and the internet of things populate the taxonomy of machines. Moreover, they are expected to learn, whether living or not, which has been their purpose since their advent of cybernetics. Since Charles Babbage maybe, “thinking machines” have been personified and designed for personal and administrative functions. In an insightful article, “If Algorithms Know All, How Much Should Humans Help?”   Steve Lohr goes after – what used to be called “decisionism” in the age of cybernetics – what he now calls “Data-ism.” ( In both cases the fallacy is that “decisions based on data and analysis” and run by “algorithms” yield better decisions. Recently when I was debating this in a coffee shop with other guys, and when the only woman customer rightfully left in disgust, I argued that regardless of the computing power, people had to decide what decisions to decide, decide how to write the algorithms to be calculated, and decide if the results are valid. RID alone cannot do that. As they re-evolve, zombies are more likely to be able to do so in the future; after all, even eating human brains should give them a leg up on robots. Bad and good RIDdance should teach us how we desire more powerlessness and are ready to abdicate human responsibility. I prefer to stick with the ponderous human beings. Because I read about and strategize about RID for agriculture most of every day, if I had to make a choice, I come down on the side of Liv Moore.

Dennis Crow is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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LaRel Rogers

Great post! Love the mention of Mad Max, Fury Road! (seeing that movie this weekend and this got me stoked!)…and always love learning more about IoT – it’s a tough topic to explain and this post did it well!

Alexa McKenna

Good post – It’ll be interesting for sure to see where drone technology is heading in the future – seems like the possibilities are endless.

Dennis Crow

There is no doubt that good uses of RID are endless, but so are the bad uses for surveillance and war. Good uses are endless for measuring crop yields and soil conditions, anticipating infrastructure failures, monitoring trains, maybe even package delivery, and especially hospital infection control. I want to take a position different from the idea that RID would replace human beings in many ways. I listened to a webcast yesterday when a commentator said that “machines don’t lie.” That is an old myth that conflates the distnction between being incorrect or perpetrating what is false. Everything depends on how RID is decided, structured, coded, and reported no less than without RID. Even the movie “iRobot” is premised on the idea that a seemingly good algorithm to protect humans, robots can misinterpret its logical, linguistic, and normative ambiguity, What or Who is badly designed in that scenario?