The limits of GPS in the West

Technology can be a good thing but it can also lead people astray. Hence, a warning out West regarding using GPS in certain areas:

Travelers in the western U.S. should not rely solely on technology such as GPS for navigation, authorities said, after a Canadian couple were lost in the Nevada wilderness for 48 days.

Albert Chretien, 59, and his wife Rita Chretien, 56, sought a shorter route between Boise, Idaho and Jackpot, Nevada during a road trip from British Columbia to Las Vegas…

Sheriff’s offices in remote, high-elevation parts of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming report the past two years have brought a rise in the number of GPS-guided travelers driving off marked and paved highways and into trouble.

The spike has prompted Death Valley National Park in California to caution on its web site that “GPS navigation to sites to remote locations like Death Valley are notoriously unreliable.”

When two roads diverge in Western lands, take the one more traveled, authorities said.

Perhaps this could be read as a warning about over-reliance on technology: it is not infallible.You can occasionally find stories of people driving into retention ponds or crashing into things because the GPS told them to turn. At the same time, how bad are these GPS maps that people can get lost so easily? This would seem to be bad news for GPS makers if they don’t cover certain areas very well. Could a GPS maker ever have any liability for any of these unpleasant occurrences? Additionally, I wonder how many GPS owners also carry around a map of some kind in their vehicle or on their person.

More broadly, this is a reminder that one doesn’t have to travel very far to leave the comforts of the modern world and get lost in nature.

The billable value of humility

In a previous post, I linked to an IBM executive who claimed that Watson’s success on Jeopardy! might revolutionize the legal profession.  Gary Kasparov, the chess champion who was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997, makes an interesting observation over at the Atlantic:

My concern about its utility, and I read they would like it to answer medical questions, is that Watson’s performance reminded me of chess computers. They play fantastically well in maybe 90% of positions, but there is a selection of positions they do not understand at all….A strong human Jeopardy! player, or a human doctor, may get the answer wrong, but he is unlikely to make a huge blunder or category error—at least not without being aware of his own doubts. We are also good at judging our own level of certainty…but I would not like to be the patient who discovers the medical equivalent of answering “Toronto” in the “US Cities” category, as Watson did.

It would be ironic (in the extreme!) if what saved the legal profession from being taken over by computers was lawyers’ own humility.  In a world where machines can process far more data far faster than human minds, perhaps our weakness is also our greatest asset:  we know our limits.