If Drones Are "High-Tech," What Are Eagles?

Should we be able to compare eagles to drones?

by Kastalia Medrano
Getty Images / Ronald Martinez

Can we refer to something biological as technological? A video from earlier this year that went viral over the weekend thanks to a boost from the New York Times has us wondering.

There have been way too many viral videos to keep up with recently. If you didn’t see this video of a Dutch firm using eagles to hunt down drones, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. These eagles literally hunt down and snatch drones out of the sky and return to their handlers on the ground. The practice will purportedly help cut down on drone deliveries by terrorists and other unsavory individuals.

The project is the brainchild of security consultant Sjoerd Hoogendoorn, who described deputizing terrifying birds of prey as “a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem.” This is quite catchy, but also turns up some logical false positives. First, eagles are not “low-tech” because eagles are not tech. I get that the virtual world and the physical world are becoming increasingly interchangeable, and soon we will have Smart Eagles and so forth, but, as of this writing, eagles are not a technology. They are a biological organism after whose physiology some of our technologies have been modeled, sure, but not technology themselves.

Second, that physiology itself is still incredibly complex, and while their potential might be more limited than a drone’s, their function and purpose remain more varied, at least for now. They are not simplistic things.

Which leaves us with a weird problem of semantics. Hoogendoorn wants to be able to convey that he and his team are using an OG kind of methodology to fight crime, and I can respect that. But to imply that eagles and drones are comparable things, and that eagles are the less schematically intricate, is kind of reductive.

A multirotor drone flies in a demonstration at the RCLogger stand at the 2016 CeBIT digital technology trade fair on the fair's opening day on March 14, 2016 in Hanover, Germany. The 2016 CeBIT will run from March 14-18.

Getty Images / Sean Gallup

So we can’t really call them a technology; we didn’t manufacture them. But just as an eagle isn’t “technology,” nor is it “science.” An eagle is not a system by which we understand or shape the world; it’s probably good being classified as it already is, just a large species of bird that is not of our making. And a highly evolved one at that. Calling an eagle “low-tech” is an apples-to-oranges kind of thing, sure, but it’s also just wrong.