As is tradition, I start the New Year by reviewing it as though already passed. When the year ends, I’ll come back and fact-check my predictions, as voluntary pundit accountability. (My 2012 predictions and 2013 predictions can be found here).
In previous years, I’ve focused on nations, regions, and broad international problems. This year, I’ve found myself a journalist on the military technology beat, so I’m going to bend my speculation a bit more towards my expertise.
The FAA drone test sites, greeted with so much hyperbole and promise in late 2013, mostly spent 2014 the site of protest. Technology testing is underway, but so far the robots are only tentatively greeted with acceptance in rural America. Even that is limited; farmers who enjoy the fast field surveys provided by an unmanned quadcopter are at odds with locals who prefer the proliferation of free skeet shooting targets.
Newspaper editorials still make Terminator references. STILL.
Following Google’s acquisition in 2013 of a half-dozen robot companies, in AUgust they announced “Google Trailview,” which uses cameras mounted on Boston Dynamic’s BigDog to track the natural beauty of America’s national parks. This makes it much easier to appreciate the outdoors without leaving air conditioning.
In Nevada, where Google has for years tested driverless cars, the internet giant announced a completely automated cab service, where people can summon a robot car and then get dropped off at home. High traffic, combined with erratic customer behavior over New Years, could shutter the plan.
If 2013 was the year of spying revelations, 2014 was a clusterfuck of reform attempts. Legislation, on the state and federal level, aimed at preventing the storage and collection of metadata, but was met with fierce obstacles on every level, from government claiming a national security threat, corporations claiming financial risk, privacy advocates worried about half-measures, and internet architects unsure that a removal of metadata from everything is even possible. Multiple cases stand ready to go to the Supreme Court, but it looks like 2015 will be the year they rule on secrecy & data collection. Until then, competing and overlapping laws provide enough loopholes for data collection that the situation is more muddled than resolved.
It exists and countries are buying it and I’m just going to have to accept that fact. The $1.5 trillion albatross of the US Defense Budget is a plane that, despite its many failings and limited capabilities, will constitute a large part of American air power for years to come. It’s a bad plane, a master of no trades and a jack of only a few, but it’s what it is. The only bright spot in its existence in 2014 was the testing of remote piloting capability. If that continues, by 2016 it could be the world’s most capable drone, and only cost $2 trillion for the airplane’s lifetime.
3-D Printed Guns
2013 saw the world’s first 3-D printed gun, and then an explosion of improvements. By the end of 2014, while countless youtube videos demonstrate the gains made by gunprinting hobbyists, none had yet to be linked to a violent crime or terrorist action. They are banned from shooting ranges, following a shoddy gun exploding on an amateur user, but otherwise they remain a quaint historical novelty.
The Year In Weapons Actually Used
Insurgencies and civil wars saw a blossoming of improvised killing technology. Crude barrel bombs, stuff with explosives and literally rolled down hills at their targets, were improved by rudimentary cheap remote control technology, adding wheels and steering to just a very deadly crude weapon.
Small arms continued to kill more people than all other weapons combined. Rockets, mortars, rifles, other cheap and deadly things fueled conflicts in South Sudan, Syria, fighting in the 35-year-long Afghan war, and elsewhere.
2014 in WMD
2014 was another year in which Iran did not acquire a nuclear weapon, though in June North Korea tested another atomic blast. Chemical weapons continued to leave Syria, in a dark bargain that took Assad’s scariest weapon away but kept him in power. The international community largely hailed this as a success.