Technology Can Backfire

Susan and I have learned the hard way that today’s technologies can get so smart that we no longer even know what they are doing.  I remember when I flew sitting next to a pilot and I asked about how complex things were in the modern cockpits.  He told me that he and his copilot often look at each other on long flights with autopilot asking each other: “What is it doing now?  … Why did it do that?” This of course reflects the interface to the weather forecasts to adjust the course for cross winds, etc.

Perhaps you have noticed that technology is creeping into everyday life.  Traffic light cameras are almost everywhere that can automatically issue you a ticket for traffic violations.  Self driving cars and trucks (called autonomous vehicles) are no longer the realm of futurist predictions.  I have one but it freaks Susan out whenever I engage it to show how it works.

Online help is rapidly moving to “chat bot” models where the first round of questions you ask are managed using artificial intelligence, kind of like what happens when you talk to today’s smart speakers like Alexa.  Most of us find these comfortable and acceptable, except that lately Alexa has been engaging me with follow up suggestions after I ask a question.  This brings do mind some of the online spoofs where Alexa reminds the person they shouldn’t be buying that item given their health status.

We are clearly moving into the realm of electronic assistants pervading our world.  However, the cartoon above illustrates a key point: we really need to also educate people about what we are doing and what is going on.

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