Saturday, January 31, 2004

What will they think of next?

I was watching a show on The History Channel called Greatest Movie Gadgets. Basically, they show some futuristic gadget from the movies, then show how close we are to achieving that in the real world.

As I was watching, they showed a scene from Minority Report with self-driven cars. In the real world, the system they presented would be cost-prohibitive because of the power requirements. In California, however, they are experimenting with magnetically-guided self-driving cars. The system works like this: Magnets are embedded in the roadway - every four feet for testing purposes - and sensors on the undercarriage of the car measure the field strength of the magnets and "follow" the magnetic path.

What caught my interest was that the whole system is run by a single Pentium computer running at 166MHz. That brought up the old question, "What if Microsoft built cars?" Imagine the following conversation:

"On Star, how can I help you?"
"My car just stopped in the middle of the highway."
"Okay... Let me pull up a diagnostic on your vehicle. Please hold..."
[brief musical interlude]
"Hello, I'm back. Who am I speaking with?"
"This is John Smith."
"Okay, Mr. Smith, for some reason your vehicle is not responding to my command codes. Do you have a self-drive-enabled vehicle?"
"Yes, I do."
"Okay. Were you using the self-drive function when the vehicle stopped?"
"Yes, I was."
"Did anything unusual happen while the self-drive was engaged?"
"Yes... My car stopped."
"I'm sorry... I mean, did anything unusual happen prior to the vehicle stopping?"
"I don't know, I was reading."
"Okay. Did any indicator lights come on?"
"No. Other than the ones that are always on."
"Is the self-drive still engaged?"
"I wouldn't think so since I'm not moving."
"I mean, is the self-drive indicator light still on?"
"Can you disengage the self-drive?"
"Didn't think of that... Hang on... [click]... [click]... [click]... [click click click click]... nope."
"Ummm, you know, I'd love to chat with you all day but traffic is zipping by all around me and it's kind-of freaking me out."
"Okay, Mr. Smith. I'm going to connect you with Microsoft technical support..."
"No no no! Don't ..."
[musical interlude]
"Thank you for contacting Microsoft technical support. All of our agents are busy right now. Your call is important to us and it will be answered in the order in which it was received."
[musical interlude]
"Microsoft technical support, this is Bob, can I have your service account number?"
"I don't exactly have it handy at the moment."
"You'll find your service account number on a label either on the outside of the box or the back of the jewel case."
"Look, I'm kind-of stuck here and it's rather urgent that I get going again. Can we just get to the root of the problem?"
"Well... I'm not really supposed to... What seems to be your problem? Maybe I have an easy answer for you."
"Thank you. It just stopped."
"You lost power? That's a hardware problem. You'll have to consult your hardware manufacturer..."
"No! I did not lose power. If I'd lost power, I wouldn't be talking to you. It just stopped."
"So your system is locked up?"
"You could say that, yes."
"Have you made any changes to the system recently?"
"Well, I added some oil yesterday."
"Oil? We don't support non-Microsoft software. Please consult..."
"No! Oil is not software, it's a fluid."
"So, you have a liquid-cooled system?"
"Aren't they all?"
"They should be, especially if you're overclocking. My home system is liquid-cooled. I got it tweaked out with dual RAID-19 multi-drive arrays, triple dual-head video cards, six 21-inch LCD monitors..."
"I DON'T CARE!! Can we PLEASE get back to my problem?"
"Sorry. When was the last time you defragmented the hard drive?"
"De-whatted the what?"
"Defragmented the... nevermind. Open up my computer."
"How am I supposed to do that? You're miles away."
"No, open up your my computer."
"Are you speaking English?"
"Sorry, sir. Do you see My Computer on your desktop?"
"First, I'm not at my desk. I'm on the highway. Second, why would your computer be on my desktop?"
"Okay.... Let's back up... Your system is locked up, right?"
"Yes, the locks are engaged... oh... wait... it's stopped, if that's what you mean."
"Look, can we hurry, here, I'm going to be late for a meeting."
"What were you doing when the system locked up?"
"Reading a newspaper."
"Online? So, you had your browser open?"
"No. I had my eyes open. I was reading a newspaper."
"What program were you using when the system stopped responding?"
"Rush Limbaugh was on the radio, I think... I wasn't really listening."
"Sir, what have you done to try to correct the problem?"
"Nothing much. I called as soon as it happened."
"Okay. Are you able to close any windows?"
"There aren't any windows open."
"Okay. What happens when you push the start button?"
[****G R I N D****]
"OH! OUCH! That wasn't good. Let's not do that again."
"Whoa! Agreed, sir. What was that?"
"I don't know! You're the expert... look, I'm starting to get really nervous here."
"Just relax, sir. When was the last time the operating system was reinstalled?"
"I don't know as it's ever been reinstalled... I'd have to ask my mechanic."
"Okay... we could be dealing with a driver problem."
"There's NO need to get personal! I have no idea what happened! I wasn't doing anything, it just STOPPED!!"
"I'm sorry, sir, I wasn't talking about you."
"Well, nobody else drives my car."
"No, no. I mean a device driver. Something in the software that controls the devices inside the computer."
"Excuse me... did you just say car?"
"Yes. It was self-driving on the highway and just stopped. I called On Star and they connected me to you. Now there's traffic zipping by and I'm getting really nervous."
"Wow... I'm not sure how to tell you this but you were put in the Windows support queue. You need to talk to our vehicle support group."
"Vehicle support group? Sounds like an addiction... You mean that's not who I'm talking to?"
"No, sir... Let me connect you to that group."
"PLEASE don't put me on hold! Can you just call a tow truck?"
[musical interlude]
"Thank you for contacting Microsoft technical support. All of our agents are busy right now. Your call is important to us and it will be answered in the order in which it was received."

No comments: