Incompetent Technology+Incompetent Humans=Inevitable Disaster


SkyNet is smiling at this one, a silly episode, but one to which attention must be paid.

In Great Britain, a computer confused a woman’s ‘KNITTER’ T-shirt with motorist David Knight’s vanity plate reading ‘KN19TER.’ He was sent a notice of a fine for driving in the bus lane in Bath, England, 120 miles from Surrey, where he lives. The CCTV system monitoring the bus lane thought it had recorded Knight’s Volkswagen Transporter because its license plate, “KN19TER” was too close to the attractive T-shirt worn by a woman walking in the bus lane. Nobody had bothered to look at the photo; they just let the system send Knight a citation and a demand that he pay a fine.

Fortunately, it was easy to clear this up, and everyone is having a good laugh about it. No one should be laughing. It is unethical to trust and rely on any technology to that extent, but humans being humans, it is inevitable that they will, especially the longer a variety of technology is in use and the more reliable it is perceived as being.

Today it’s an easily dismissed fine, tomorrow it’s “The Terminator,” “The Corbin Project,” “Blade Runner,” “War Games” and “2001.”

22 thoughts on “Incompetent Technology+Incompetent Humans=Inevitable Disaster

    • Given widespread coverage of this photo, I wonder how the subject feels? Maybe a human could have taken a moment to make it a little more anonymous.

      • Why should she try to be more anonymous? This isn’t about her acting in an extravagant manner; it is about reliance on stupid technology without human oversight.

        Our son and a friend of his were talking about something they just knew to be true. She said,
        “Of course, it’s true. I read it on the internet.” He said, “No, you’re wrong, because I read it on the internet.” The fact is, both were wrong.


  1. I highly recommend the War Games movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

    But per the story, this kind of thing terrifies me. I don’t know if you had any issues with your stimulus check, but I couldn’t get through to the IRS at all. There wasn’t even a put you on hold wait. I literally just couldn’t get through. Imagining some sort of civil fine system for traffic violations where you can’t even talk to a real person unless you actually go into an office is maddening. Getting a ticket for someone else’s violation is even worse!

    • The entire IRS was furloughed for about 3 months last year. They had no one to answer their phones, they turned off their fax machines, they were dumping all the incoming mail into storage boxes (in my mind, I pictures dumpsters full of mail) without even opening it.

      They are still, 18 months later, extremely hard to get on the phone. They have never really caught back up, despite what they say. Anything that has to be touched by a human takes roughly forever to be processed.

      And the cherry on top is Congress retroactively changing the tax laws during the tax season. There’s talk about doing that again if the Build Back Brandon bill ever passes.

      It’s actually good that they’re talking about hiring a few thousand more revenue agents (don’t ask me just where they’ll get them) — maybe over the next 10 years they can catch up.

      • I actually didn’t know that, but such a move is highly incompetent. You don’t institute a system to mail out large sums of money and cut the staff that needs to process it. There are still people today who haven’t received their checks (though it’s small).

  2. Jack wrote, “It is unethical to trust and rely on any technology to that extent, but humans being humans, it is inevitable that they will, especially the longer a variety of technology is in use and the more reliable it is perceived as being.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    This brought up some memories of ignorant people blindly believing their GPS navigation systems without using their brain and end up driving themselves off into cow pastures, down hiking trails, into the wrong state, etc, etc. Eventually some blithering idiot aspiring for a Darwin Award is going to take a right turn off the middle of the Golden Gate bridge.

    I had an idiot delivery driver that was trying to find my house to deliver some furniture that tried to deliver the furniture a block away at a different address. He had typed the address into the GPS incorrectly, blindly relied on the GPS system and had to call me on the phone to find out where I was located because he didn’t have the intelligence to cross check the location he was at and the actual address on the paperwork which was correct. I’ve heard a few not so pleasant stories from some of my military buddies of GPS errors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yup folks, this is what our education system is spitting out.

    I’ll use the built-in GPS in my wife’s car or on the Garmin for my motorcycle but I refuse to rely on the route it chooses until I’ve actually cross referenced that route it with aerial views and actual paper maps which I use as backups on long trips.

    • Well it doesn’t appear that she wasn’t jaywalking, as in crossing the street in the middle of the block, it appears that she was walking in the traffic lane either with the flow or against the flow of traffic.

      Do they issue tickets in the UK for such things or just depend on the bus drivers to smear stupid people into the pavement to fill potholes?

  3. This is just one example of why Level 5 autonomous vehicles are much, much farther away than people realize. I haven’t read much on this lately but Tesla is at Level 2 and drivers are relying on it too much in many cases. There are quite a few accidents already where drivers relied on Level 2 autonomy too much.

    Dated September 13, 2021
    Level 2 is currently the highest level of autonomy you can get in a commercial car. Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s Super Cruise, and Nissan’s ProPilot are all examples of Level 2 autonomous driving systems.

    In my opinion, as we see companies achieving Levels 3 and 4 drivers will carelessly trust these features even more resulting in higher incidents due to too much trust invested in the technoly by the driver. Heck, people don’t even pay enough attention to their driving now – it’s definitely going to get worse (IMO). Some companies are already pushing to eliminate Level 5 leaving Level 4 as the highest.

    The 6 Levels of Vehicle Autonomy

    Level 0: No Autonomy Zero autonomy; the driver performs all driving tasks.
    What It Means to You
    It’s all you, man. You’re doing all the driving with no technological assistance.

    Level 1: Driver Assistance The vehicle is controlled by the driver, but some driver assist features may be included in the vehicle design.
    What It Means to You
    An advanced driver assistance system, or ADAS, can sometimes assist the human driver with either steering or braking and accelerating — but not both simultaneously.

    Level 2: Partial AutomationThe vehicle has combined automated functions, such as acceleration and steering, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment at all times.
    What It Means to You
    An ADAS on the vehicle can control both steering and braking/accelerating simultaneously under some circumstances. The human driver must pay full attention, i.e., “monitor the driving environment” continually and perform the rest of the driving tasks.

    Level 3: Conditional Automation A driver is a necessity but is not required to monitor the environment. The driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice.
    What It Means to You
    An automated driving system, or ADS, can perform all aspects of the driving task under some circumstances. In those circumstances, the human driver must be ready to take back control any time the ADS requests the human driver to do so. In all other circumstances, the human driver performs driving tasks.

    Level 4: High Automation The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.
    What It Means to You
    An ADS on the vehicle can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment — essentially, do all the driving — in certain circumstances. The human need not pay attention in those circumstances.

    Level 5: Full Automation The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. The driver may — or may not — have the option to control the vehicle.
    What It Means to You
    Sit back and enjoy the ride. An ADS on the vehicle can do all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are just passengers and need never be involved in driving.

    • I think the more pertinent question is whether a large amount of drivers relying too heavily on Level 3 or Level 4 autonomy is more safe than our current system. I’d posit (based on no evidence) that a computer will make significantly fewer mistakes than our current system. Yes, a perfect autonomous driving system is probably at least 20 years away, if not longer, but I think getting to level 3 or level 4 autonomy would still be a significant improvement over what we have today.

      Of course, liability will get hairy, but i’m sure we’ll have plenty of lawyers excited to work that out.

  4. In Colorado (at least) any photo tickets are merely submitted to a police department to be verified by a law enforcement officer before being issued. Without that human confirmation, nothing is done.

  5. This kind of idiocy is Signature Significance. I hope the UK has some sort of drivers’ advocacy group who uses this incident to sue to get the system shut down. If it can make this bad of a mistake, how many smaller, less obvious mistakes has it made prior? This system (which includes the significant fact that no review by law enforcement personnel is taking place) has proven itself not trustworthy enough for operation.


    P.S. And don’t even get me started on automatic photo ticketing systems owned and operated by private companies which share a portion of their “fines” with local governments, which are purely a revenue-collection scheme and have nothing to do with public safety.

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