Some Technology That's Just Wrong
It is December 2014. I read a news article that reminded me that some technology is just not good for society. Some scientists and engineers seems to believe that anything and everything is open to pursuit. They believe there should be no limits placed on technology advancements. My personal opinion is that there should be some limits to technology. Just because something is doable does't mean it should be done. I have a few examples to make my case.
The Airbus A380
I remember in the early 1990s, when the A380 jumbo jet was first proposed. Having read about what they were planning, it just didn't make sense to me. Why would a major airline propose a jumbo jet that will carry more than twice the capacity of the largest existing airplane? It would have a capacity of up to 800 passengers. It would require major airports to extend the length of their air strip just to accommodate this super sized plane. It would also require special trained crew to service this plane. The only justification for it is the efficiency of scale. It would cost less per passenger to move people from one place to another by plane.
Here are some reasons why I think it was a bad idea.
- It will take too long to board and deplane.
- It will be limited in usage since only a few airports can accommodate it.
- In case of emergencies, it will create a disaster scenario. If you remember, the miracle on the Hudson, an A320 place with 155 passengers survived a landing on the Hudson river after an incident with some birds. What would happen with an A380?
Now, 25 years later, I read in the news that Airbus is considering withdrawing the A380 due to lack of orders. Why am I not surprised?
Google experimented with a new device called Google Glass. It is a wearable computer with a screen located in the corner of the glass. As if we don't have enough distraction already with smart phones, now it is right in front of our eyeball.
Here is why it may be a bad idea.
- It is a distraction.
- It is not ergonomic. Our vision is not designed to focus on a corner of the eye for extended period of time.
- It is anti-social.
Commercial use of drones is another one of those technology that defies common sense. Amazon is one company exploring the use of drones to make package deliveries. Do we really need our orders that instantaneously to risk some major air disaster?
Here are my reasons why drones are a bad idea.
- It is too hard to control in extreme weather.
- It may be an environmental hazard for wildlife and birds.
- It may interfere with commercial aviation.
- It may lead to invasion of privacy.
- It's a potential hazard to be hacked by terrorists.
Some companies such as Google and Audi and Mercedes are busy working on self driving cars for the future. I think this is a very bad idea. I have no problem with some technology assistance to help prevent accidents. However, when you replace the human driver, that is where I draw the line. There are just too many un-intended consequences that may occur. For me, the most important aspect of being in control of the car is the freedom to go where I choose. If I decide to go a road trip, I can just get in and start driving. I don't need to punch in a destination. Even if someday a system can be perfected, it still will require human as a backup in case things go really wrong. Do you really think a person can just take over when he has been out of practice for long period of time. Driving as many other tasks is a learned skill. One needs practice to keep the skills sharp.
I hope the companies working on this technology take a lesson from history. Back in the 1980s, an airplane company decided to remove any mechanical linkage between the pilot and the airplane. They believe that pilot error was the main cause of accidents. They put in an automated system that prevent the pilot from taking full control. However, an accident occurred shortly with the auto-pilot system in full control when an unusual circumstance was not "programmed" and the auto-pilot failed. Needless to say, they went back to the drawing board and re-designed the whole system to allow for human intervention. It was a costly lesson.
Some technologies are just not meant to be. Not because we don't have the expertise, but because they are impractical on various levels. I'm reminded of an old quote that may be applicable here. "To err is human but to really foul things up you need a computer." - Paul Ehrlich.