Is it dumb to trust smart technology?

Automation is nice, but it doesn't mean you should hand over responsibility to the machines.

By Mike Elgan
Aug. 1, 2016

I'm not aware of any deaths, illness or injuries from the overheating and overcooling that resulted when the Nest's automatic temperature control failure, but it's a possibility for our automated future.

As a larger percentage of temperature controls become Nest-like automated systems, including for disabled, elderly or sick people, problems with these automated systems could be life threatening.

The Tesla Auto-Pilot crash

A Tesla crash in May raised questions about Tesla's Autopilot feature. The car was reportedly in Autopilot mode when it crashed into the side of a tractor trailer, killing the driver. Tesla claimed it was the first known death in more than 130 million miles of Autopilot operation.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found that the car was traveling at 74 mph in a 65 mph zone.

Some Teslas have a range of automation features, including a beta Autosteer mode, an Auto Lane Change feature, an Automatic Emergency Steering and Side Collision Warning system as well as Autopark.

While attention has been paid to the so-called Autopilot set of features, the real failure happened with an automatic emergency braking system, which probably did not engage in the crash. The reason is probably that the truck's side was lit up by the sun, which the Tesla's visual system couldn't distinguish from sky.

Some speculate that the driver wasn't paying attention to the road. The truck driver claims that the driver was "playing Harry Potter on the TV screen" in the car throughout the entire crash.

News of the crash didn't stop the occasional abuse of Tesla Autopilot mode. A recent YouTube video, which has since been removed, shows a man playing Pokémon Go with both hands while Tesla’s Autopilot handled the driving.

How to use fully automatic products and features

Like a Tesla on both Autopilot and Ludicrous modes, we're rapidly screaming toward a future where many of our appliances, equipment, vehicles, gadgets and services are completely automated, controlled remotely by artificial intelligence or locally by algorithms.

It's important for us, as consumers and users, to learn how to safely incorporate these technologies into our lives. What these events tell us is that the right way to use automation is to treat it like the convenience it is, and not a replacement for human awareness, monitoring and judgment.

Pets can't be left in the care of a cloud service entirely. As with before the automatic pet feeder era, a human guardian who cares must be available to check on, feed, or pet-sit any pet when we go on vacation. We can't turn pets' lives and well-being completely over to an app (unless, of course, those pets themselves are robots).

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