delara news Delaware Amateur Radio Association, Delaware OH   VOL 37 NUMBER 11

Joe Fischer


Your destination is… forget it, you’re lost!

Just off of the top of your head, what is the telephone number of one of your friends?  Let’s say that you have never been to downtown Cincinnati – could you picture in your mind the route from your home to the Duke Energy Convention Center?  If your GPS app navigated you to someplace that was not near where you really wanted to be, how soon would you be aware that something was amiss? Technology is great, but it is becoming truer all the time that we are offloading many of our mind’s tasks to the phone book on our phones, the GPS device in our cars, our favorite Web-based search engine and so on. I read an interesting case where somebody got stuck someplace and either did not have his/her phone or it was not working.  The person had access to another phone but could not remember the numbers of his/her spouse or children. I have witnessed a few incidents where somebody punched the address that they wanted to go to into their GPS and off they went.  Having no big-picture concept of where they were going or what they might expect to see along the way (major intersections, shopping centers, other things that could be used as waypoints), they ended up somewhere other than where they wanted to be.  Fortunately, no harm came of the mix-up but there was some embarrassment and inconvenience involved. There was an article in an IEEE publication, I think, that pointed out a pitfall with the efforts to put self- driving vehicles on the road.  At first, such vehicles will be able to handle many driving tasks but a human must be able to take over the driving chores if a situation arises that the car’s software cannot handle.  Supposing that the car’s software has a reliability of 95%, or something like that, it could be far and few between when a person actually has to drive the vehicle.  If such a situation came up, could the person actually drive the car?  Especially if a reaction time of seconds was required? It could be very likely that a teenager gets his or her driver’s license and starts “driving” a self-driving vehicle and as the vehicle’s software constantly improves, the person may be well into his or her 30s or 40s before actually having to take over the driving.  The person may have no idea, perhaps long forgetting, where many things are on the car, other than the communications/music console, and be totally unable to take over the driving.  Guess what Sweetheart – you have just three seconds to assess the situation outside your vehicle, which you have not been paying attention to, figure out what to do, which you have no experience with, and activate vehicle controls, which you know nothing about.  Can you do it? As an engineer, this is stuff that I have to think about.  It’s nice when things work 98% of the time but what happens if a 2% situation comes up?  It’s one thing if the 2% causes some problem in brewing your coffee but it is quite a different situation in the flight control system of an airliner or a medical device. In the case of the airliner, multiple layers of redundancy have to be built in.  The crew has to undergo constant training to know what to do if the autopilot suddenly pops off and the pilots have to be real pilots. Makes me wonder if years from now, a school will open that promises to teach students with no technological crutches – perhaps simple calculators – but the students will be taught to use the stuff between their ears instead of relying on a machine or computer to get them to the store in the next town over.  I don’t mean this as an old-man rant but as a wake-up call to consider what we want our machines to do.