As if we don't have distractions and worries enough in our daily lives, along come drones. Most Americans think of drones as smart, military missiles being directed at targets in remote areas of Afghanistan rather than objects flying in our own airspace. But they are wrong -- by the thousands of drones wrong!

Commercial drones are becoming a major industry here and abroad. So much so that manufacturers are champing at the bit waiting for the FAA to formulate rules and regulations that will enable them to go into full production and sell them into private hands.

The initial question concerning private ownership of drones concerns the public's right to privacy: should a drone be allowed to hover over private residences providing surveillance information to local police, national security officials or just plain nosy neighbors?

Safety is the main concern of your humble columnist. Ever since the Wright brothers, airspace above the earth has become increasingly crowded. Ever flown into or out of Los Angeles and watched the number of planes zooming up out of the haze? That brings up the visibility problem in overcast or cloudy weather.

While I was flying as an Air Corps radio operator in the Western Pacific (800-plus hours), close calls were experienced a few times; the weather was a factor in two of them, and three involved human error. The war was over, so no one shot at me; but mistakes do happen. Now picture two aircraft approaching each other and the pilot of one of them is on the ground!!!


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If predictions are true, there will be 7,500 or more privately owned drones swishing, swooping and hovering above us within the next five years. Should they be allowed near airports? The San Francisco Bay Area has three major airports and a few private ones close by. There have been six near-misses recently; one was reported quite close in Florida. Will the height of drones be limited? Can they be allowed to be armed (by police or individuals worried about defending themselves, etc.)?

And what if they get in the hands of terrorists or even an unhappy young person holding a grudge against school personnel? Worrisome questions abound!

Drones can be used to perform many worthwhile tasks -- deliver medicine to remote regions, look for lost children, check out otherwise inaccessible terrain, track criminals and even deliver pizza! Nevertheless, they have to be held in check. The air isn't as free as it used to be!

Alvin Toffler's thought-provoking book, "Future Shock," was used as a supplementary text when I taught sociology at Encinal High. In it, he suggests that our society is changing rapidly from an industrial to a superindustrial one. Technology is changing faster than we can adequately adapt to it causing "shattering stress and disorientation" -- future shock.

Skype, iPads, YouTube, tablets, smartphone cameras ... what's going on here? As Bob Newhart once put it, the good thing about machines is they don't make mistakes, make mistakes, make mistakes ....

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.