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Trusting Computers?

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By softwareNerd from Software Nerd,cross-posted by MetaBlog

Here are some funny stories:

mercedes-sl500-440.jpgFirst, "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?

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I've yet to get a GPS system for my car largely because I've looked at how they map out routes. In short, they fail to take into acount lots of things. Like for example the shorter, more direct route is through an awful lot of traffic lights, while a slightly longer, less direct route is through a freeway and therefore much faster.

My brother has one, and he says they're great for navigating in places you don't know at all. But he still recomends checking the map and route beforehand. Finally, he tells me he uses it more to check where he is at a given time.

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My father owns a GPS and he hasn't had much issue with it. Forr the most part its a very good tool. but more so speaking towards computers and internet, computers are a very handy tool but also can be a very harmful one at the same time.

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Computers, like any tool, are frequently only as helpful as the person using the tool. Even a hammer can crush a thumb. If a GPS system tells you to do an immediate U-Turn on an interstate at 80 mph and you do it, I'd have a hard time blaming the GPS. Despite the poor immediate instruction, the GPS is still communicating that you are headed in the wrong direction.

I use the GPS feature on my phone frequently while out of town so that I can find restaurants, hotels, whatever. More often than not, I get there with no problems. Other times it has only presented very minors problems. I recognize the technology still needs improvement, but as a guide it is a wonderful tool.

Certainly there are things one might have to trust computers with to a greater degree. Calculations, for example, for businesses, scientists, architects, banks, etc. etc. would represent situations where people are probably more vulnerable to what the computer spits out.

No matter how simple or complex the tool, I think some folks think the tool will do all the work for them rather than viewing the tool as something that merely assists them but may be prone to error. The use of tools still (generally) require some human attention or judgement to produce the desire result.

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