Sunday, October 14, 2012

Screen warnings

Two weird news stories in the same week. First, there was the tale from Pessac, near Bordeaux, where a woman called Solenne San Jose tried to cancel her mobile phone contract with Bouygues Telecom. There would, she was told, be a termination fee which, as she discovered when opening the bill, amounted to a mere €11,721,000,000,000,000. To put this in context, Bouyges Telecom wanted her to cough up  €11,721,760,000,000,000  more than the recent EU bailout for Greece.

Solenne San Jose, with her bill

Obviously there had been a computer glitch but, and this is where the story gets interesting, when Ms San Jose called Bouygues to point this out, they apparently refused to acknowledge the error and even went as far as to suggest that she consider paying off the debt by instalments. Presumably at a rate of €11m per month for 333,333,000 years,

Then there was the story In the Coventry Telegraph about a Jet petrol station selling ludicrously discounted fuel. Apparently for four hours, one of the pumps was selling petrol at £0.13.9p instead of £1.39. Long queues of drivers waited to save 90% on filling up their tanks.

In both cases, otherwise intelligent employees seem to have abandoned common sense and trusted the numbers on the screen, however ludicrous they might have seemed

Lastly, and much more seriously, on BBC radio, I heard a British solder talking about why he was opposed to drones Apparently, as a drone controller thousands of kilometres from Afghanistan, he saw what seemed to be a terrorist planting a bomb at the side of a road. He was about to send in a drone to kill the man when another much taller figure walked into the shot. The Brit instantly realised that what he'd thought to be an adult terrorist was in fact a child playing with a toy.

Fortunately, that controller placed less trust in the data on his screen than the employees at Bouyges and Jet, but he admitted that his decision not to kill the child was more a matter of luck than judgement.
Something to remember as we go through our computer-driven lives... When something on the screen looks wrong,. it probably IS wrong.

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