Science & Tech Videos

Dystopian Short Film Explores “Our Drone Future”

San Francisco-based designer and filmmaker Alex Cornell has made an impressive short sci-fi film, depicting a not-so-distant future in which an unnamed government entity (implicitly Homeland Security) employs semi-autonomous drones to patrol the skies of San Francisco.

Cornell’s video employs remarkable filming techniques and slick video effects. He reports that he employed a DJI Phantom quadcopter and a “liberal interpretation of FAA regulations.” His unusual camera platform allows him some unusual flexibility in perspective: in one shot, the drone is hovering hundreds of feet above traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, while in the next it deftly ducks beneath strings of paper lanterns strung above a Chinatown street.

As becomes more ominously clear as the video progresses, the weaponized drone protagonist, cyborg_visionunlike today’s military drone aircraft, is not under direct control by a remote human pilot. It receives voice commands from an unseen human operator named “Ethan,” but is quick to disobey overrides and get trigger-happy on its patrol.

In its clever employment of off-the-shelf equipment and software, “Our Drone Future” proves once again that convincing effects and innovative techniques are accessible to any filmmaker creative enough to find uses for them.

While the video appears to address a topical concern–the increasing use of unmanned aircraft by government agencies–it’s really the spiritual and aesthetic successor to the “Terminator” films. The POV shots peppered with HUD graphics strongly resemble the glimpses of cyborg vision we get from James Cameron’s 1984 classic and its sequels.

Naturally, this depiction of an apparently self-aware artificial intelligence gone rogue raises the usual disconcerting questions. Many will watch this and see the inevitable future culmination of today’s NSA overreaching. Others might see it as an allegory about racial profiling. Perhaps some few will be most disturbed by the prospect of a sentient intelligence being created – and dispatched – while its own welfare never receives a second thought, either from its attacker or its creator.

Watch the skies.