Sunday, November 26, 2006

Technology Gone Wrong

I had once posted about a bathroom I was in that had touchless soap dispensers—you just hold your hands under it, and the dispenser automatically pours some soap into them.

At the building where I work, they have gone a step further: touchless paper towel dispensers. (Unlike the bathroom in the previous post, the sinks here are touchless, too. Although the soap dispensers aren’t…)

Unfortunately, as the images below show, there are still some bugs with the system.

This always annoys me. People feel that simply by putting a computer into a device that used to be mechanical, it will somehow be better. Usually, you end up with a very marginal improvement in functionality—was it really so hard to use a paper towel dispenser, before they automated it?!?—and you always end up with reliability problems. The computers start having problems, and there’s nothing you can do about it, other than buying a new computer/chip for it. Or replacing the whole thing outright.

Want another example? Raise your hand if your car has ever had a problem, where it was reporting that things weren’t working, and it turned out it was the sensors that weren’t working. Or if your gas gauge stopped working, because it’s now computer-controlled, instead of being a mechanical device. (Before gas gauges were computerized, did you ever hear of someone’s gas gauge having problems?)