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The Future of Air Traffic Control is Apparently Super, Super Creepy

June 27, 2014 at 1:37 PM | by | ()

Last March we posted a very neat little video tracing the paths of the roughly 30,000 flights that enter, leave, and just generally hang around European airspace on a summer day. It began in the early morning with the planes coming across the Atlantic, and then as the day wore on it developed into well-managed chaos. The emphasis here is on "well-managed": the visualization was produced by Britain's NATS, the country's biggest provider of air traffic control, and the organization responsible for keeping all those planes from colliding. They weren't exactly bragging, but they weren't exactly not bragging.

Then about three months ago NATS posted a new video. This one is all about the future and it is - bluntly - creepy as all hell. It's supposed to be a futuristic look at how commercial "air traffic control" is inevitably going to be subsumed by commercial "air traffic management," which is both a real airline industry thing and something that is actually kind of interesting for travel geeks.

But the video looks like the kind of presentation you see at the beginning of an X-Men or Robocop or Terminator movie, when the evil corporate CEO is telling a boardroom full of bureaucrats that they should buy his new technology, which will give them total control over everything.

It's titled "NATS - Guardians of the Sky," which is already kind of strange. Then very early there's a line about how all passengers flying through NATS's airspace are "watched over by us - unseen - unnoticed - Guardians of the Sky." Then there are some Alice In Wonderland-style perspective shifts, something that looks like the technology in Minority Report, and a description of how the future involves replacing human beings with drones. They're very big on that last part. The pilotless planes, the narrator explains, will be "navigated - supported - guided - by us."

Listen to her voice.

This is the tone of someone telling you to accept your new, better life under an automated dystopian regime. Literally she says that: "where man and machine work in unison... a future that's more efficient, quieter, faster, cleaner." Then she talks about how NATS's inherently superior mastery of data will bring about "a new dawn in aviation." Keep a particular ear out for how she says that, every day, her organization keeps its promises - including to governments and militaries - to protect national borders and keep everybody safe.

"We hold millions of lives in our hands every single day."

NATS - Guardians of the sky from NATS on Vimeo.

[Photo: NATS / Vimeo]

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