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Weird Science

Weird Science


I had an interesting experience the other day. My incoming emails started multiplying, so each message arrived about ten times, if not more. After running all the standard checks, I called my Internet server. The tech person listened, and said, “Wow, I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” and then added, “I don’t have a clue what you should do next.” A second technical assistant gave more or less the same answer, without the humility. This after my having waded through a conversation with that cheery computer voice that pretends to be your friend, in order to finally reach the trained professionals.


 I thought the response from customer service an interesting sign, because increasingly, our lives are dominated by technology, and in most cases we like it. However, few of us really understand this stuff, except in a theoretical fashion, and even fewer seem able to fix it. This has led to the plug and play mechanic, who will simply keep swapping parts until, by luck of the draw or law of averages, the problem disappears. Alternatively, the thing is never repaired. There are more than a few motor vehicles that have simply been condemned as lemons, and no one has the foggiest notion what’s wrong or right with the beasts. This is not good, but has always been a danger. Our ability to create something is far greater than the skill needed to maintain or modify it to any degree of satisfaction. Scary thought for some of today’s high tech cars, isn’t it? As an aside, anyone with ideas on the email thing, please get in touch.


Telemetry, or information gathering from a distance, has been part of racing for a while. In most cases, the systems can read every single thing the driver does, as well as the movement of each control, engine settings, temperatures, and tomorrow’s TV guide. Some even download each time you drive down the front straight. When you pull into the pits, your interaction is with the engineer and a laptop computer. This quickly puts an end to lines like, “No, I was flat on the throttle all the way through that section.” A couple of blips on a printout can put a serious crimp in your ego. In this case the process is helpful, if put into context.


 I suppose I should not have been taken aback when, during the computer debacle mentioned at the start of this piece, I was asked to send in an update of the problems the computer was experiencing. This was to go to an antivirus company, so it seemed a good idea. I was offered a chance to view the report before sending, and chose to do so. The amount of information that report had gathered on my computer was astonishing. In the readout was a list of virtually every program loaded, the brand name, main server, and type of printer attached to the computer. I could go on, but that’s scary enough. Anyone with a reasonable degree of paranoia probably wouldn’t choose to drive an On Star-equipped automobile. Too late, anyhow, and in many ways truly sad. There is precious little privacy any more.


Many cars of today already know our personalities. They remap the shifting to suit our driving styles, respond to voice commands, and in the future will adjust to us in many other ways. The next generation of motor vehicles will become more, not less, user friendly. Perhaps they will even have personalities and names, though we hope Hal is not one of them. I’m just not crazy about the spectre of all those calls to various tech centres where the person responds, “Wow, that’s so cool … no, I don’t have a clue how to fix it.”

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