Friday, January 24, 2003

Do We Really Want This?

The Pentagon is deploying videophones to "public affairs officers" in order to "counter hostile propaganda". So now when some knob of a 'journalist' reports that the US military has bombed some civilian target near the front lines without verifying the information, the Pentagon can counter with video feed directly from the front lines.

Sounds all well and good, and might actually show some of the more empty-headed anti-war protesters that they shouldn't take every word that comes from a foreign (hostile) country's government as their gospel. But what happens if one of these public affairs officers (PAO) is in the midst of giving a 'report' and the enemy forces penetrate the area during a counter-attack? You could potentially have very graphic scenes of American soldiers (or the PAO) being killed or severely injured. They are also talking about putting one of these video phones with a B-2 bomber crew. What happens if the plane gets shot down (I know, very unlikely) or has a malfunction and crashes? I don't think that would have the desired effect that the Pentagon is hoping for by deploying this new technology.

Of course, the video feed is supposed to go to 'journalists' who would hopefully edit out such events, or choose to report them without the accompanying video. However, we all know that the broadcast news media will at one point just start streaming the information 'live' and without any editing, or choose to release the whole grizzly affair anyway, saying that the people have a 'right to know'.

The only thing that might save it from this fate is the rate of transfer. That videophones have a maximum bandwidth of 128 kilobits per second, just a little more than twice as fast as a dial-up modem connection, only since there is no analog to digital conversion, its the equivalent of a dual-channel ISDN line, which is sufficient for 30 frames per second video if the subject isn't making quick movements. I also don't think the cameras in the videophones have as high a resolution as standard television crews cameras, so you probably won't get the greatest details. It might make quick-moving battle scenes look quite garbled.

One can only hope.