Thursday, December 13, 2012

Garbage in, garbage out

I stood in the newsroom wrangling with our new-fangled copier today. It made me yearn for the Xerox copier of days gone by. Punch in how many copies you want. Hit start. It was pretty simple.

Now I have a piece of equipment that its sole purpose is to make copies asking me a series of three questions each time I want a copy. Scan? Size? Copy?

What was wrong with a key pad and a start button? I want two copies. I hit 2 and start.

But, alas, someone at the copy manufacturer was sitting around bored wondering what new bells and whistles they could add to the copier to make it more “useful.”

The answer: none.

Technology is really getting out of hand. The better example than me getting irked at a copier is photo enforcement. Ticket cameras. Red light cameras. Speed cameras. And now they have “following too close” radars that snap a photo.

As computers grew in popularity ages ago, there was a common phrase that everyone knew. “Garbage in. Garbage out.” It’s a simple concept, really. If you put garbage programming into a device, you will get garbage out of it. Since people program computers and devices those electronics are no more perfect than the human beings who created them.

That understanding has gotten lost along the way. Now we live in a day and age of believing that if the computer says it, it must be true.

Not so.

I’m not anti-technology. I like my gadgets. But, not to the point I quit thinking for myself.

Take the case in Baltimore where an attorney got a photo enforcement ticket for speeding. The ticket claimed he was going 38 in a 25 mph zone. Problem is – the photo showed his car stopped. The 10-second video “alibi” clip that will be used in court shows the car – stopped. Brakes applied, stopped.

The problem is so rampant in Maryland, that one lawmaker wants to fine cities and the manufacturers of these cameras that erroneously snap photos of law abiding citizens and issue them a ticket.

The “following too close” radar is one for the scrap heap, too. How many times a day in urban traffic are trucks cut off by four-wheelers? Can you imagine you get cut off in traffic, the cop shoots the radar at you and voila! You’re following too close.

I know law enforcement agencies are suffering from lack of funding and looking for other ways to do routine enforcement. States, cities and counties will try and convince you that technology is the answer. No manpower required to make the street safer.

Bull. Remember garbage in, garbage out.

The machines are not perfect. Nor do officials seem to care if they are. The tickets issued by these devices are generally cheaper than the equivalent ticket issued by a live officer. Cheap enough that a lot of people would pay the $40, accept the violation that is not turned over to insurance in a lot of cases, and save the trip to court.

Don’t even get me started with electronic on-board recorders … my blood is already boiling.

It’s time to dial back the technology and start thinking for ourselves again.