Is Automation Ruining Our Lives?

November 29, 2015

Daniel Gable via Creative Commons flickr

Robots that clean the bathroom, cars that drive themselves, computers that diagnose disease. They may sound appealing, but technology writer Nicholas Carr warns that the new age of automation could mean we'll lose basic life skills.



I became concerned about technology replacing skill when first experiencing mountain rescues where a climbing party gets into trouble, and rather than relying on learned skills, they sit themselves down and call for help. This has been a problem particularly in the Northwest, where you can get some cell coverage on the more accessible locations. Their lack of preparedness and their willingness to invoke others to get them out of trouble often imperils the lives of the rescuers.

Additionally, in cities where a eighth inch of snow shuts traffic down, tell me how automated cars are going to handle the inevitable slippery road or deep drift, and how those drivers who have learned to rely on their "drivers" will be able to correct a slide (when they don't know how even now).

I'm an engineer, and this automated future concerns me

I've already had to deal with the level of automation in my 2000 Chevrolet truck. The Automated Braking System that is suppose to stop us safely on wet slippery roads shut my brakes down completely. The system is based on sensors that input a chip that compares the speed of each wheel with the other three wheels and applies the braking power in such manner as to keep them at the same speed. The computer chip that controls the ABS malfunctioned and thought the bakes were locked and so removed all braking pressure from the wheels. Luckily I'm not one of the drivers that waits until the last second to apply their brakes and had time to downshift and aim my car at a shallow ditch rather than the truck ahead of me. When I found a place that was safe to pull off and park long enough to grab my owners manual I found that the ABS was powered through a fuse inside dash panel, so I pulled out the fuse. This solved my braking problem and I probably would have happily left it out as I know to pump my brakes on slick pavement. Unfortunately the same speed sensor that inputs to the ABS also controls the cruise control and I tend to speed when I don't set the cruise on long trips. So I had to cough up the cash to fix the ABS so I could use the cruise control which is another piece of automation that up until a few decades ago didn't exist