Smart Technology: What are The Benefits and Risks?
What is smart technology? Because there is no formal definition for smart technology, a layman’s description will suffice. Smart technology means that computer technology is utilized to make logical decisions based on gathered data, in order to take actions which mimic what intelligent people will do. The term “smart” has been attached to appliances and devices which perform ancillary functions based on “decision making”. For example, programmable thermostats, smartphones, and smart power grids all use smart technology.
A few examples will clarify the definition:
- Less than two decades ago, few people had smartphones, which perform secondary functions apart from the primary function of making phone calls. Today, even in remote parts of the world where living conditions are not too far removed from the Stone Age, people have smartphones.
- Within the last decade, the electronic whiteboard, together with interactive audio and video communication has quickly become a new trend for instructional and tutoring services.
- Today, all you need to do is to browse the web and issue a few search words or phrases, before you are inundated with advertisements which are related to the words you typed in the search engine.
The trend is clear. Technological advances, mostly driven by CAD technology, are ushering us into an era in which we depend on smart technology. Two more illustrations make this clear.
- If you lose your smartphone for 24 hours, would you feel as if you lost your wallet, even though you could still make phone calls from a house phone?
- Before computers and calculators became ubiquitous, kids in elementary school studied multiplication tables, could do addition and subtraction of fractions, and could do long divisions. Today, many high school graduates who are entering college cannot add two fractions together without using a calculator.
Undoubtedly, CAD technology has contributed significantly to the design and manufacture of smart products. Although smart products provide many benefits that improve living standards, history has shown that great technological advances have been used for both good and evil. The purpose of this article is to ask the question: While the benefits of smart technology are indisputable, are there accompanying risks to be aware of?
Benefits of Smart Technology
It is impractical to list all Smart Technology devices that benefit mankind. Therefore, a few examples and illustrations will do.
- Inertial navigation and guidance systems use smart technology which relies on CAD technology, gyroscopic propulsion, and GPS technology to monitor, control, and make corrections for moving object trajectories.
- Smartphones, apart from providing the ability to make and receive phone calls, perform many ancillary functions that are taken for granted. For example, monitoring the weather, reading emails, texting, providing remote control of electronic devices, and providing GPS enabled navigation are commonly used functions on a smartphone.
- Robotic surgery relies on CAD technology to perform minimally invasive surgery, because CAD technology provides precise control of micron-level incisions during surgery.
Risks or Potential Risks That Accompany the Benefits of Smart Technology
In order to assess risks associated with Smart Technology, possible failure modes (including man-made failure modes) will be discussed for the smart devices discussed in the prior section.
- All it would take for disaster to occur is to place a sophisticated inertial navigation system in the wrong hands who has access to weapons of mass destruction.
- Smartphones, because of their ability to control electronic devices remotely, have been used to detonate bombs. Tragically, that was the method which terrorists used to take the life of an innocent 10-year old girl (who was used as a suicide bomber) in the name of religion.
- A surgeon who has not been properly trained in robotic surgery or a surgeon who develops hand tremors during a delicate surgical operation could cause great damage to a patient.
Although the risks mentioned are attributable to either deliberate or unfortunate man-made errors, consideration of failure modes of smart devices is very important.
According to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. Also, in layman’s terms, the law of entropy states that order always decreases, and disorder always increases. Therefore, smart products should be expected to fail. When decision making is assigned to a smart product which is failure prone, there are risks to be considered.
Consider this example:
The concept of a driverless car is taking hold, and could become reality. What risks should be considered when the decision-making ability of a driverless car goes awry at 100 kilometers per hour?
If a guided missile heads into a heavily populated civilian zone because of computer error, should the missile be expected to correct itself, or should human intervention make the missile self-destruct?
These realistic examples illustrate the risks associated with failure modes of smart products.
Although it is possible to minimize risk by incorporating redundancy into the design of a smart product, what are the answers to these questions: “How much redundancy is required?”, and “How cost effective will the product be?”
CAD technology continues to benefit mankind with innovations which improve the quality of life. Nothing is wrong with enjoying the benefits of Smart Technology. With regard to risks associated with the benefits provided by smart products:
- Failure modes of smart products should be well known and understood when the products are designed and manufactured. Failure handling procedures should be an integral part of the design and functionality of the products.
- There are no smart machines. All “intelligent machines” depend on the wisdom and intelligence of their human designers or creators. Because smart products are dumb without the intelligence of their creators, they should never be given absolute decision-making power or authority.
Because of risks associated with failure of smart products, human control should always be available for overriding decision-making ability of smart products.