Software Nerd

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Trusting Computers?

Here are some funny stories:
First, "The Register" reports: "The driver of a £96k Mercedes SL500 had a lucky escape after her satnav directed her down a winding track and straight into the River Sence in Sheepy Magna, Leicestershire..."

Next, we have the 78-year old man who's GPS told him to "make a U-turn immediately", when he was on a highway (an 80 MPH speed limit type).

Now, we have a guy in upstate New York, who was driving across a railroad track when his GPS told him to turn right. So, he turned right, onto the tracks, making like he was a train! The car got stuck -- probably those damn horizontal sleepers and troublesome ballast stones, so car unfriendly! He got out and the train smashed his car. According to other reports, not only did he wreck the car, but this ended up holding up the line for 2 hours.

Any lessons from this? Are these just funny stories to be forgotten, or is there a lesson from them? I don't know, but I wonder. The apparent stupidity is some type of mistake. Is it "trusting computers too much"? For example, if another human was sitting beside them and had given them the same instructions, would they have followed blindly?

Why do people have this type of trust in computers? After all, some person put the data into the computer. Is there something about getting instructions from a device that lulls some people into forgetting what is metaphysical and what is man-made?


  • I suspect the GPS navigators have nothing to do with these errors, but are just being blamed after the fact when the crazy drivers drive themselves into a river or whatever.

    GPS navigators don't even remotely have to-the-second accuracy. As anyone who uses one knows, it's not a driving instrument, but a navigation guide--you look at the screen to see the name of the next street, and then just focus on the road to turn onto that street. The directions are akin to "turn right up ahead", not "turn right this instant". The idea that a navigator's slightly offset timing caused somebody to drive off a bridge, or crashing through a mall plaza, or whatever, is beyond preposterous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:43 PM  

  • Anon:
    My thoughts exactly.

    But people like Al Gore and James Hansen et al believe that when garbage goes into a computer running a general circlation model (GCM), gospel comes out.

    By Blogger Mike N, at 6:13 PM  

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