Is All Software Created Equal?


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As mentioned by Manovich, we are living in a software society that values software culture both directly and implicitly. One of the most recent and direct examples of this is the military’s implementation of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. Not only does this use of software extend the abilities of institutions on a world scale, but it also changes the way people think of and use interfaces in order to interact with technology, as well as one another.

Judging by the amount of controversy surrounding this this topic, it’s a bit mind-blowing to think about exactly what makes this software so disputed. Can we use software in virtually every other way, but insist that using it in war is off limits? Or do we acknowledge that drone software as another step into the future? Obviously it isn’t a simple topic that can be broken down into two options of black/white or good/bad, but there definitely is a question of how society will proceed with the use of this software.

In bringing up drones, I am not trying to make a political statement, but rather point out that much of the discomfort people feel toward this technology and software, exists in the functions of things we use every day on a personal level. As mentioned by Manovich, various types of interface components have been embedded into our culture and we expect technology to be able to produce the outputs we desire. 

In it’s most basic essence a drone is used to execute an action in a remote location, with the input of a human being in another location. Although this physical distance is discomforting to many, doesn’t it already exist in some capacity when we use Google search? Critics of drones say that their use would blur the line between the army and those with whom it interacts, but according to Manovich the software we use daily already does that – “Google’s search engine shows you the results both on your local machine and the web – thus conceptually and practically erasing the boundary between “self” and the “world.”

When de-black boxing the drone, we come across a variety of interfaces that exist in other technologies – the screen and it’s various layers, “user-friendly” icons, cameras and satellite relays – so what is it exactly that makes people uncomfortable with this technology and not other technology? Is it solely political? Does it make us super aware of the actor network theory in action? Or is it something else embedded into the human side of the interfacing? It seems as though much of the debate about drones is rooted in our difficulty of pinpointing the answer to this question, which truly demonstrates how software is permeating all levels of our culture.