We rely on technology for bringing good things to life, to borrow an advertising slogan from General Electric, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes, rather than bringing good things, the technologies we build bring unexpected consequences.
The unsmart home. Take the technologies that collectively comprise the “smart home,” for example. We now have devices that listen in on our conversations and control lighting, entertainment systems, heat and air conditioning. Movies like Smart House have made fun of the sorts of things that can go wrong, but one particular problem is related to the automated vacuum cleaner called Roomba. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that this robotic device has been known to pick up animal feces and spread it around the home with great efficiency, resulting in what some have called the poopocalypse.
GPS mishaps. There’s a reason why Google Maps and your GPS device include a disclaimer warning you about the questionable accuracy of their driving directions. That’s because people have been known to drive straight into large bodies of water and other hazards, just by listening to the directions given by these automated personalities.
Exploding e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes use batteries and a heating coil to heat up a small amount of oil for smoking purposes, but sometimes these devices explode. Batteries are designed to store energy in a small package, which means that the energy can be released in a big hurry under certain circumstances. E-cigarette smokers make a habit of putting a potentially explosive device up to their faces or in their pants. What could go wrong? Sometimes e-cigarettes explode in people’s pockets when spare change, keys or other metallic objects come into contact with the battery and create a short-circuit. In other cases, the users are smoking their devices when they explode, sending hot oil and melted plastic flying at high velocity toward their faces. Not smooth.
Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay. When Microsoft unveiled their AI chatbot, named Tay, they bragged, “The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.” Unfortunately, early in Tay’s Twitter career, she seemed to have some bad experiences that led her to become a raging racist maniac. A full review of Tay’s terrible declarations would be inappropriate for polite company, but suffice it to say, she got really nasty. Microsoft’s engineers subsequently took her comments offline and scrapped the project.
Deadly airbags. Sometimes the very technologies we rely on for safety turn on us and threaten our safety instead. Take the Takata airbag recall, for instance, where it was found that the airbags didn’t deploy in an accident. Even worse, sometimes these airbags would explode without warning, sending shrapnel throughout the cabin. All told, the recall of these airbags became the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, exceeding 37 million vehicles.