Coverage of global affairs in 2017 focused on the big flashpoints — North Korea, the fight against ISIS and the aftershocks of Russia’s election meddling.
But along with the familiar narratives there were a few plot twists –- from deadly drones to advances in artificial intelligence to new frontiers — experts say 2018 could be a year where the stuff of speculative fiction gets real.
Civilian drones could get weaponized
The battle for Mosul generated some strange and gruesome images.
ISIS had Mad Max-style VBEIDs — heavily armored cars stuffed with explosives careening through the ruined streets on suicide missions. Iraqi anti-terror forces used bulldozers to plow insurgents into the rubble.
But some of the most unsettling images were the ISIS propaganda videos shot from far above the city. Slow aerials of ruined streets — small bombs drifting down like badminton shuttlecocks — then vanishing in a pop of dust as tiny human forms scatter.
Thanks to the improving quality and falling prices of civilian drones, ISIS had air power.
“Anyone with basic skills can equip a civilian drone with explosives, fly it into a populated area, and do great damage,” Massachusetts Institute of Techology (MIT) professor Lisa Parks wrote in an email interview with ABC News. “This definitely makes me nervous.”
Consumer drones are cheap, precise, easy to operate from concealed places, and equipped with cameras that can pan, tilt and target. So far the effect hasn’t been that dramatic, but what happens if insurgents use them to drop something deadlier?
“Given that legal regulations regarding use of civilian airspace are flagrantly violated in conflict zones and by insurgents and others there is really nothing to stop insurgents from using drones to drop more effective explosives or biological or chemical weapons,” Parks told ABC News.
Parks, co-editor of “Life in the Age of Drone Warfare,” studies new media technologies, including drones.