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| DearWebby is actually Helmut Morscher, the CEO of Webby, inc.
Originally the "Tech Support Pits" were reports of the funniest tech support incidents, but over the years the
column gradually shifted to answering tech support questions put forward by the readers of the Dear
Webby Humor Letter.
This collection of computer and web advice was started partly because readers demanded an archive, and partly
because some questions were asked again and again. Each page has a different day's Tech Support Pits column.
Tech Support Pits column from Dear Webby's Humor Letter of
03/14/04: Robot cars
Tech Support Pits:
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I saw on the news how badly those robot cars did in that
race where the Pentagon promised some big prizes for
vehicles that can drive through the desert without a driver
or remote control, so that they can develop automatic ammo
carriers. Was the problem that computers are not good
enough? Compared to what they can do with star wars
games, a simple desert should be no problem.
The computers are good enough.
The problem is the boneheads in the Pentagon, who didn't
think it through, and obviously were too dumb to read
classic Science Fiction like Keith Laumers Bolo series from
the 60's, where the author thoroughly analyzed the problems
inherent with autonomous vehicles.
Autonomous (driver less and without remote control)
ammo carriers can be stopped and captured by half a
dozen swimsuit girls. How ? The robot car can't tell if the
sexy babes are friend or foe, and so it can't kill them.
The girls can simply stand in it's way and drive it nuts,
steal the hubcaps and set the cargo on fire. DUH!
Except for the mechanical breakdowns due to sloppy
workmanship or lack of foresight, the vehicles failed
because they encountered too many unfoerseen
challenges, like barb wire fences that appear to the
robot like static or bugs on the lens.
By contrast, a six year old space wars player, using the
same interactive controls that were used to guide the
missiles in Serbia and Kosovo, could have guided a
vehicle from Barstow to Las Vegas at real race speed,
AND probably would have offered to clean up his room
PLUS the garage to be allowed to do it.
Robots are for clearly defined, repetitive tasks; not for
a challenge that requires creative thinking and dealing
with new and never before encountered situations.
It all boils down to the first law of computing:
The computer does NOT do what you want it to do,
it only does what you tell it to do.
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