Yes, We Are Vulnerable Tech

But Blame Shifting Does Not Absolve You of Fault Nor Relieve You of Responsibility to Help Fix

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The others, or in this case us, always so easy to blame. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The classic go to of the techno-elite, blame the user. It never fails, it can’t be refuted, and of course it often times, including in this case, has the luxury of being true. That said, just because a thing is true does not make it right. Technoelites will get no sympathy and no pass on this issue from me or any other non tech insider (the vast majority of persons) just because we are idiots. They have still failed to learn one of the the first lessons of quality. The people that use your products will find every way imaginable to use them incorrectly. They will ignore every safety protocol, actively flaunt every warning or admonition, purposely do the exact opposite of what you tell them to do. This has to be part of your planning from day zero. You must design and build your products, be they software or hardware, in a way that understands this, and actively prevents it from happening, prevents it from being even a possibility. In manufacturing quality this is sometimes referred to as error proofing or Poka Yoke design.

A classic example is a train crossing. When designing a train crossing there are many ways to prevent a train colliding with a car. One can put in a stop sign. This will prevent a large number of collisions for sure, but many people don’t stop at stop signs, and some will simply not see the sign. A better approach is to put in a crossing guardrail. In this case one must actively navigate around it which few are willing to do. However, it is a well known fact that many people do indeed do this. Poka Yoke would say you should instead put in a bridge that takes traffic over the tracks along with guardrails that ensure no cars can stray from the road even in an accident situation. Now a collision with a train is made impossible. Software and hardware companies have the resources, the knowledge, and the skill sets required to put those bridges in their products, but they choose not to do it. They claim it is “too hard” or they say “XYZ competitor isn’t doing it so why should we” or “it will make our product too expensive and it will no longer be competitive.” When these excuses fail to satisfy they always fall back to the classics “it’s the users fault”, and its wide angle doppleganger “it’s societies fault.” For a great example of this one see the very article upon which I am commenting.

Here is the problem in a nutshell. It goes a little something like this…You are society Mr. Technology guy. You are a part of society. You help make it. You can make it better or you can make it worse. Right now, and for as long as I can remember, mostly you have been making it worse. Despite what you may believe, you do not exist on some exalted Mt. Olympus in the sky above, looking down upon us lowly mortals, reigning vengeance and mercy at you whim. You live in Silicon Valley, California, looking around at other people just like you who also live there. And while you may rain vengeance and mercy on people it is mostly just your friends and family, and maybe that bum that begs for quarters on the street outside your startup.

If you could not tell already, my tiny violin plays at max volume whenever I hear these sad laments. I am happy to accept the blame for all of technologies short sighted thinking, blame shifting, poor manufacturing and quality practices, and overall crappiness as soon as they admit machines can’t learn and AI does not exist. It seems we have reached an impasse as none of the above is very likely anytime soon.

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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