Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why the machines haven't won yet

Today's LA Times has an article about a fellow who got into trouble by trusting his gadgets rather than his common sense. Marty Callner and his daughter were returning to LA from Las Vegas and ran into a (not uncommon) traffic jam on I-15. Trying to speed his trip home, he used the navigation system in his $100,000 Mercedes-Benz to plot a new course. The navigation system cleverly told him that he could make a detour over the "back roads of the Mojave Desert" to the town of Baker where he could again pick up the interstate. This turned out to be a bad decision.
The computer-generated woman's voice coming out of the instrument panel kept commanding Callner to "continue to follow the road," though he had his qualms when he had to start dodging large rocks as the road surface deteriorated.
He was finally stranded when one of his tires blew out, and was lucky that he was not caught in a flash flood (common in the desert in August). According to the driver, the Mercedes roadside service staff were less than helpful:
[. . .] an agent at Mercedes tele-aid center told Callner after they were stranded for a few hours that nobody was on the way. When Callner asked why, the agent reportedly said, "Because, sir, nobody wants to die out there with you tonight."
According to the article, a number of the navigational systems in fancy cars have known software bugs (even though that was not apparently the problem in this case). The bottom line: there still is no substitute for a current paper map and a large dose of common sense.

(And for the love of Pete, don't drive into the desert unless you have a 4-wheel drive truck, supplies, know the current weather conditions, have an idea of where the * you're going and a map.)

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