I was interested to see James Taylor (President of the Royal Institute of Navigation) writing in Navigation News about sitting in a traffic jam, most of the drivers around him being illuminated by the comforting glow of a Sat Nav.
I guess few people realise that the wider Sat Nav system has no knowledge of their existence. At least that is the case for standalone Sat Nav. Once a smartphone is involved, who knows who is taking an interest.
For those trying to get home after the Forth Road Bridge closure Sat Nav must have seemed like a life-line. Outside helpers leading the way to safety.
Of course, unlike a phone, a basic Nat Nav is not in touch with any form of intelligence at all. If there is a connection, it is not across the ether but backward in time to the intelligent (or otherwise) people who designed it. We tend just to notice the mistakes. The map programming guy who closed down his screen, popped out to buy a BLT, and came back having forgotten to show the restricted access halfway down Acacia Avenue in Little Snorking has made my life a misery.
This having been said, I do find the Sat Nav screen a comforting glow. I can forgive the designers the odd wrinkle. It is – after all – just a tool. And I am better off with it.
Will I feel as good in the future about the designers of the driverless car in front of me at a road junction? The one which has failed to pull out for ten minutes. As drivers we take calculated risks. Designers play safe and rightly too. One bad algorithm could put thousands of lives at risk and the designer could be liable. Here lies a fundamental law of automated systems which if it has not been stated before we should state now. “Designers are more risk averse than operators”.
Sat Nav is at its best providing guidance (and comfort) to people, not machines. I worry about the day when the comforting glow of Sat Nav shows nobody in the driver’s seat.