Friday, June 26, 2009

Computers Make Us Stupid?

I recently received this from our Jan 09 antenna expert Dr. Raines and thought it was a relevant subject these days:

"Computers Make Us Stupid"

That was a key point, and a direct quote from Prof. Pat Winston of the Electrical Engineering Dept., made to over a thousand returning alums at the MIT reunion on June 6. Looking back over recent events, it certainly seems that this was not an idle, abstract, or rhetorical observation.

On Monday, in Washington, DC, the worst Metro commuter train crash in its 33 year history claimed 9 lives and caused many more serious injuries. The most recent evidence suggests that the train was being driven by an errant computer. When the operator tried to apply the emergency brakes and override the computer, the computer prevailed.

A few weeks ago, an Air France plane disappeared over the Atlantic en route from Rio to Paris. The latest theory is that an airspeed sensor iced over and confused the computer that was flying the plane. As an amateur, instrument rated pilot, I know firsthand that the Airbus aircraft are the fly by wire type, that is, almost entirely operated by computers. From the time the airplane taxis to the takeoff position until after it lands and is on the ground, it is controlled by a computer. A pilot in the cockpit once told me, "We aren't really pilots. We’re just computer jockeys."

Almost two years ago, the entire world banking system approached a complete meltdown from which we are still suffering. The best explanation so far is that derivatives caused it. Warren Buffet calls them “weapons of economic mass destruction.” Well, it wasn't just those derivatives. It was the derivatives coupled with computer controlled trading so that billions of dollars were exchanged in less than a second with each trade.

The evidence suggests that computers are making us stupid as a society. Conversely, perhaps, a dumbed down society is complacently giving up thinking and control to computers. We are turning over major functions and decisions to computers. But who programs the computers? Perhaps, as Forest Gump astutely observed, stupid is as stupid does.

I feel like this has been an ongoing issue since the first electronic calculator was developed. Many people do not bother to perform easy math calculations in their head because they know they can use a calculator.

But on the other hand, computers have greatly advanced our knowledge and standard of living. New hardware and software have accelerated our technology at a fast rate. Our July cover story addresses how RF/microwave software has changed the industry over the years so look for that in mid-July.

What do you think???

1 comment:

  1. Uhhh... I dunno, let me check the internet and see what I think.