DAN THOMASSON: Do we really want delivery by drone?

Scripps Howard News Service Published:

WASHINGTON--I'm sorry, but Jeff Bezos scares me. Maybe its an age thing where too much radical change has overloaded my comfort zone. Or perhaps it's that I distrust unrestrained ambition.

The Amazon genius who has parlayed an online empire seemingly without bounds into a $25 billion personal fortune selling everything but the air we breathe is ready to now fill our skies with spider-looking objects to deliver what we have bought from him.

If Bezos has his way, by 2018 we will find these drones buzzing through our skies like a locust invasion, planting packages on our lawns or front porches. The object is to get things in your hands quicker to satisfy your need for instant gratification, which is another thing he seems to want to peddle.

The culture already operates at breakneck speed, so who needs more?

There are some hitches for the man who would own the world ... and sell it. The Federal Aviation Administration may predictably worry about whether further crowding the skies with these little buggers is safe or desirable -- a boon or a scientific nightmare on a number of different levels.

Increasingly Americans are being subjected to prying eyes from the sky and the electronic eavesdropping of the National Security Agency. The drone probably will be designed with one camera and civil libertarians are alarmed, as well they should be.

The FAA is only one agency that Bezos will have to deal with. There are all sorts of questions to be raised from others on the federal state and local levels including security agencies who might legitimately see the potential for illegal abuse. Dare I mention terrorism?

It also doesn't take an economist to understand the possible impact on the job market already suffering from automation. The delivery man, like so many others, may just go the way of the passenger pigeon, replaced by an awkward looking robotic machine with propellers.

The prototype is 36 inches wide with eight motors and a flying time of just 30 minutes and a max five pound payload (at least to start). According to the Washington Post, which Bezos bought recently, 86 percent of the items shipped by Amazon are five pounds or under.

Bezos has some practical problems, too. He has to protect his flying porters from being hijacked or shot out of the sky by sportsmen who want to practice their duck hunting or clay pigeon skills or who are just plain annoyed by them and whip out one of their several hundred firearms.

Amazingly the billions of dollars of merchandise sold still haven't produced a substantial profit if any for Amazon. Yet Bezos has become one of the wealthiest men in the world apparently from people betting on the come, as old crap shooters say.

With the whirlybirds he might at least cut home delivery costs. Is the man a business genius or a strange creature from outer space who is secretly plotting to turn up side down civilization as we know it?

A wise man once said that just because we are capable of doing something doesn't always mean we should do it. The unintended long range consequences may nullify what seemed like a good idea at the time. Bezos and his drones have that possibility.

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