Sunday, March 4, 2012

Has technology gone too far?

I've been thinking a lot recently about all the technology around us. Not just what's in cars, although that's what's driven my thoughts I guess. Recent government interest in the distractions modern technology presents to drivers is focusing attention on interactive gizmos of all kinds.

Now I'm no Luddite; I embrace most of the technological advances in our cars today. I've owned older, more basic cars. Sure my '56 Ford was fun and easy to work on but it did break down frequently. And I have spent countless hours adjusting points, carburetors and valves. When electronic ignitions first arrived on the scene the question often posed was, "what happens when I'm in the middle of nowhere and it breaks?" Good question because if the points stuck or went out of adjustment just about anyone with a screwdriver and book of matches could fix the problem. I learned that a crisp dollar bill made a decent point file in a pinch. But then electronics got so good that they didn't let you down anywhere.

Electronic fuel injection and ignition, along with computer controlled cam timing (and so much more) has made  high performance, clean emissions and good fuel economy mutually possible. Electronics have made anti-lock braking, anti-skid control and all sorts of handling controls possible. And for the most part they are good things (I could argue that the more the computer controls a car the worse the driver becomes so instead of making for better drivers we embolden the idiots).

But right now most of my fear of technology is not a fear of the technology but a fear that where it's going may in the end it leave us defenseless. Cars are one of the last areas to join into the computer revolution, or of the computer "connected" revolution. It is the connectivity that worries me.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not overly worried about Big Brother watching over me; he's been doing that for centuries. I am worried about the vulnerability of the technology.

It seems on a regular basis we hear about someone hacking into so-and-so's system and stealing this or that. Thankfully nothing serious has ever come of it, or so we've been told. But what if the hacker was someone with evil intent?

There is a push to develop driver-less cars and automated roadways. Another way to cut down the carnage on our roads, a noble goal. Think about all those cars and trucks being guided by some huge central computer. Now think about some of the problems we see with air traffic control.

In our day to day lives we have freely given every bit of ourselves to "The Cloud." Fewer and fewer of us have land line telephones preferring the "freedom" of cell phones, secure in our knowledge that no one is listening. (Is this driven by ignorance or idea that there's just too much to listen to?) When I was a young semi-radical we always wondered, "is someone listening" whenever we talked on the phone. Now we talk out loud in crowded places about everything and anything.

People everywhere worry about "them" tracking their cars through the on-board computer systems. I worry more about our enemies shutting down our transportation systems.

For me maybe technology has gone just a little too far. Ford has commercials out (not to pick on Ford) touting the interactivity of their Sync system; someone says something along the lines of, "not only can I talk to my car but it talks back to me!" No thank you, I do not want a car that talks back - enough people do that to me now.

Most of the technology that I like has made the world a better place. But like 3D television, do we really need the rest in a car? Do we really need to tell the car's climate control to adjust the temperature or the radio to change the station? Is the job of a car to entertain you? I don't think so.

I'd really like to see someone build a more basic car, a car for getting you from point A to B, a car that might in itself be fun to drive. It should be full of technology but only technology to make it a better vehicle, not an amusement park.

Maybe one day I'll build it myself. And yes I know I've rambled.

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