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Too much automation | Off Kilter


Last updated 10/5/2022 at 11:31am

I got to thinking about all the ways we are being “helped” by automation in our modern society – and how sometimes perhaps there might be “just a little too much” of it.

An example: My wife’s brand new (2022) car has more sensors in it than one knows what to do with. A perfect example is a supposed “safety” feature where a sensor monitors the car’s progress within the lanes on the freeway. As long as the lanes are marked either with a dashed or solid line (which most freeways are so marked), the car is always “watching.”

If you happen to wander out of your own lane without your directional signal being on, the car when it sees you so wandering, automatically turns the steering wheel in the opposite direction to return the car to within its lane. And it happens suddenly and with quite a bit of force. And you are definitely not expecting it. Now the wheel turning is only for a second or so, but the first time it happens it scares you quite a bit. In fact, one’s instinct is to apply force in the opposite direction from the one the wheel is turning in. But the force is more than you can overcome.

There are many other sensors. One set which is really annoying are sensors that monitor whether there is any object in front of you, behind you, or to either side of both the front and back of the car. When you are close to an external object, the sensors start beeping – and the closer to the object you are, the more frequently it beeps until it simply stays on in a continuous annoying beep.

Now here is the problem. Every time you pull into the garage and you get close to our garbage cans (which sit directly in front of the car), you get first the occasional beep, then as you pull the car to where it is supposed to be at rest, the beep is continuous. Again, the first time it happens you wonder whether you’ve just run over the family cat. Likewise, as you back out of the garage, the garage door frame also sets off the sensors.

Last point on this, the car has automatic headlights. So as you pull into the dark garage, the headlights come on. And when you shut the car off, the headlights stay on for perhaps 20 seconds. It’s actually so you can see your way from the car to the garage stairs. But one’s reaction is to attempt to shut off the lights, which you simply can’t do. At first, you fear that with the headlights on, you are going to run the battery down and not be able to restart the car.

The home alarm: Almost all home alarms have a time delay so that you can set the alarm and then open the door you use to exit the house. Now if you happen to not close the door fully, you’ve exited the house, gotten into your car when the alarm goes off full blast – announcing to the entire neighborhood that someone has broken into your home. You rush back in, disable the alarm then reset it, this time being extra careful to fully close the door. All the while you’re hoping that one of the neighbors has not called the police.

Automated teller machines: These units have a touch-sensitive coating on the screen – through which you press various commands as you use it. Only problem is as the screen gets dirty, the “touch” mechanism can stop working. I’ve now had the experience of depositing a check and after the machine “eats your check” it fails to complete the transaction – so you’re never sure whether the transaction has registered into your bank account. So far, it always has been, even though I never received a paper confirmation of the deposit.

Rowan and Martin did a great send-up of this topic on one of their Laugh-In TV shows. A man comes into a “computer Interview.” He sits down and is reading the paper waiting for something to happen. The computer asks: “What is your name?”

He looks up and says: “What?”

Computer says: “Mr. What, what is your first name?”

Man says: “No. Not what.”

Computer says: “Mr. No Not What What?”

At this point, the man takes out his axe and answers the computer with a loud “thwack” which is what most of us would like to do at that moment.

And it will take a separate column just to cover the automation and functions of a typical smartphone.


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