Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Safety feedback loops and new car safety features

Wired has an article today titled - "Is Car Safety Technology Replacing Common Sense?" The author of the article is concerned that all of the safety features in cars will in the end make them less safe as drivers become less and less accustomed to needing to pay attention while driving.

This argument reminds me a little bit of the snarky Apple ad about Windows UAC. It is a fine line between creating computer systems that try to prevent users from making mistakes, and ones that allow the end user the flexibility to actually use the computer they purchased. Witness of course Leopard's new feature that asks you to confirm you want to run something you just downloaded from the Net, and how it fails to run certain programs whose digital signature doesn't match anymore - which is leading to no end of annoyances for Skype and WoW users.

I was struck by one line in the article:

I always thought that as the driver, watching the road ahead for slow-moving vehicles and cars that dart into my lane — not to mention checking left or right to make sure its clear before changing lanes — was my job.
It is humorous to me to hear this same line repeated again and again as new safety features and technologies come out in products.

  • It used to be my job to pump the brakes to stop on a slippery surface. Now ABS helps me do it better in almost all cases.
  • It used to be my job to harden my operating system like a madman. Now most operating systems are shipping with slightly more reasonable defaults for things. Not perfect (witness Leopard's firewall) but getting better.
  • It used to be my job to determine whether a website and an email are real or spoofed. Now I have browser toolbars, email spoofing filters, etc. to help me out so I don't have to do each of them manually.
Sure, there are cases where relying on technology can have disastrous consequences and fail in a brittle fashion.

I don't know that its anything but an empirical question whether a safety or security technology actually makes things better.

1 comment:

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