The Limits of Technology

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human-error-graphic Every once and a while a news story comes along to remind us that any technology has its limits.

Yesterday, in Alabama, a semi-truck driver drove his rig into a 12-foot high tunnel. His trailer was 13 1/2 feet tall. There are sensors which detect vehicles over the high limit and activate flashing lights and a sign.  The detector functioned properly, as did the blinking lights and signs.  The truck driver drove into the tunnel anyway.  The reason?

The driver’s GPS system had routed him and his truck this way.

No doubt, the driver saw the signals and hoped that there was enough wiggle room built into the system that he could get through. Truck drivers are often paid either by the route mile or a flat fee for a certain delivery, and stopping and going back to find another way would have been both time consuming and expensive. I’m betting he weighed the options and decided he would just hope for the best. That didn’t work out so well.

Technology Aids Not A Solution

Sometimes it seems as though our technology can do anything. GPS systems have made navigating the route to any destination easier than every. The height detection system setup in front of the tunnel makes it unnecessary for drivers to know the height of their vehicles or loads because it will warn them if they are too high. But, neither system replaces the need for human judgment and intelligence.

The GPS system does not calculate how high the tunnels are (it may not even know they are there, at least as part of the routing algorithm), nor does it know how high the vehicle is that is asking for the route. Both would require human knowledge and intervention, perhaps the trucking company distributing a memo or file to truckers in that region to not use certain routes due to low tunnel clearance.

And, the warning system, can’t apply the brakes for the trucker and make him turn around. The human behind the wheel must choose safety over expediency.

While additional (some still un-invented) technologies may have averted this specific incident, the simple fact is that the number of permutations involved in the activities of the world outstrip the ability to anticipate every one of them.  In the end, technology can only be an aid to human intelligence, not replace it.

Technorati Tags: ,tunnel crash,,technology limits,gps limitations
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