The other day I went to the gas station and encountered a shiny new pump. It had a liquid crystal display to interact with me and on top of the pump was a medium sized monitor. My first thought was “wow – nice”, but that first impression didn’t last very long. I was a little disappointed with the responsiveness of the display and authorization of my credit card seemed to take longer than usual. I began thinking the company had not gotten their money’s worth from the engineering department.
My thinking soon degenerated into unkind thoughts as it took FOREVER to fill my car. It was not just the electronics that was sluggish. The gasoline was being dispensed at an intolerably slow rate.
Finally, my car was full. As I removed the nozzle from the car I half-noticed that the advertisements that were droning on the monitor had started over. I don’t go to gas stations to be entertained or be educated and I sure don’t go there to watch advertisements. As I was hanging up the pump the conspiracy theory part of my brain became active. Could it be that the slowness of the pump was not the result of bad engineering but of the engineering team adhering to marketing requirements to delay the customer? Was I purposefully held captive at the pump so they could show me more advertisements?
My feelings of pity for the company turned to dismay. I no longer thought the company spent good money to get an engineering piece of junk. Rather, the engineers did a fine job on this pump and built it just like the marketing department wanted it.
Am I being more paranoid and delusional than normal? I don’t think so. We are fortunate to live in a time when the raw power of economical hardware and the sophistication of software can produce miracles. Unfortunately, too few products and services get to flex their technological muscles without being crippled in some fashion. We are certainly on the verge of a “Brave New World”, but I can’t tell if this new world will be wonderful or horrible. Will we have unbelievable health and convenience? Will we have knowledge and facts at our finger tips, or will facts cease to exist as our every interaction with the world is flavored and colored by the whims of those who control the information outlets and connections?
I fear it is possible that some of the scenes of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report will be proven uncomfortably prescient and we will be fed a non-stop deluge of individualized advertisements, polls, and surveys. Out time will be subtly consumed as customer service lines force us to wait as they are ALWAYS experiencing “unusually high call volume”. While we are waiting we will be told of their latest sales and how much they value our business.
The machines that do all of this, like the Skynet Terminators, will feel no remorse and no sympathy. They will simply do what we, the engineers, designed them to do.
… OH! The Shame!!