Blind trust in technology

I was watching the television a few days ago and there was a story about a man that had taken a year off work and was driving his whole family across Africa in a Toyota Land Cruiser. The vehicle had everything for what promised to be a rough and demanding journey. One morning they set out very early to visit some sand dunes in Namibia and he rolled the vehicle over on a stretch of totally deserted road. There were no other vehicles around.

How did the crash happen? It was because he was watching the screen of his GPS rather than looking out at the road ahead. The GPS said it was a straight road and everything looked safe – only it wasn’t. The was a sharp bend he didn’t see coming.Back in May of this year a 45-year-old German man did something similar. His blind faith in his GPS sent him onto the wrong end of an Autobahn off-ramp. An 11-year-old boy was slightly injured in the resulting collision.

Smart as these devices undoubtedly are I slightly worry about where we will all end up if we totally trust technology in this manner. Is not a degree of caution sensible? Should we not use such intelligent devices in combination with human intelligence and not as a replacement?

BTW, book update. It’s printed. It’s on it’s way to bookshops in the UK, US/Canada, and Australia/New Zealand and is currently being translated in South Korea and Japan. Launch is mid-October.

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6 Responses to Blind trust in technology

  1. Richard Watson says:

    I just remembered this from a while back (it’s an edit)

    One day a daughter of Earl Spencer (thus a niece of Princess Diana) called for a taxi to take her and a friend from her home in Northamptonshire to watch Chelsea FC in London. She asked the driver to take them to Stamford Bridge, which is the name of Chelsea’s home ground, but the taxi driver delivered them to a village of the same name in Yorkshire, more than 100 miles in the opposite direction. They missed the match.

    Such incidents are becoming quite common. A coach full of English schoolchildren bound for the royal palace at Hampton Court wasted a day crawling through central London as their Sat-Nav sent them stubbornly to a small street of the same name in Islington. A Syrian lorry driver aiming for Gibraltar, at the tip of Spain, was sent 1,600 miles off-course to the English seaside town of Skegness, which has a Gibraltar Point nearby.

    Two things are happening in these stories. One is that these people seem to have an ignorance of basic geography. The other thing is subtler. All the individuals involved in these stories have handed over responsibility for knowing where things are or should be to a machine.

    From Intelligent Life – Summer ’09 (edit)

  2. Max Kaehn says:

    This is an intermediate step in the technology caused by the high cost of heads-up displays. The mature technology will put the information you need on the windscreen (or your glasses/contacts) so you don’t have to look away from the road.

  3. Richard Watson says:

    That’s true. Information will be displayed directly on windscreens and even contact lenses although we could still get into trouble.

  4. Jules says:

    Completely off topic but I’ve just discovered that your blog’s not accessible in the UAE! I’m guessing somebody didn’t like your inclusion of Dubai on your 2009 extinction timeline? Thankfully, there are ways around this.

  5. Bradley says:

    Back on topic…

    I wonder how many people have NOT run out of petrol; have NOT gone into dangerous areas when they are away from home; have NOT had huge marital arguments over driving the wrong way based on poor map-reading skills; since GPS had been available to the masses?

    My grandfather felt the same way about the calculator as many people feel about GPS at the moment. (OK, your stories about car crashes were probably uncommon with the invention of the calculator, but we’re discussing attitude here!)

    GPS is a great tool, as are many of these new technologies.

    I get frustrated when we drive to new places, and all the kids want to do is play on their Nintendo DS rather than look out of the window at the new environment. We need to remember how bored children in previous generations were of long journeys!

    Blind trust in NEW technologies? It’s no more blind than relying on our cooker at home to stay at an exact constant temperature for a specific amount of time to bake a cake, or the lighting in our home (we had a power cut a couple of months ago and it took hours to find a candle) and so on – all on ‘OLD’ technologies.

  6. Richard Watson says:

    Some countries just have no sense of fun! I still get hate mail from Belgium because I put them on the extinction timeline and I’ve learnt to be very careful about putting the word China in a blog headline.

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