Doing Too Much With Too Little

Sometime after the Paleozoic era, I used to design medical instruments. Most of the instruments were one-off special purpose designs to support aerospace medicine research. Would you believe one of the designs were brainwave amplifiers to record implanted monkey brains while undergoing zero G stress in the “Vomit Comet” airplane? It was chore to clean the airplane. Other designs had more serious applications in cardiology and gastroenterology.
When I started a new design, my technique was to draw the front panel of the proposed instrument. If you think about it, the front panel is the design specification as it establishes what the instrument can do. The task then becomes to design the interior circuitry to accomplish what the front panel requires in the way of performance. Since these instruments had very specific measurement requirements, it was possible to have a specialized front panel control for each function.

However, some applications place constraints of space, size and cost that make such a straight- forward approach not feasible.
Here is an automotive example. On my 1940 Lincoln, if I want to lock the doors, I stick a key into a hole, turn the key,  which then causes a linkage to engage a locking mechanism. To unlock the door, I reverse the action, and turn the key in the opposite direction. Two functions with one control; Lock/Unlock – a nice, simple and easy to understand function.
On my late model car, I have several options: I can either use telemetry in the form of a battery-powered key fob to lock or unlock the doors, or I can use one of two switches on the door arm rest, or I can use the push button integrated into the door handles. A push button only has a binary state. It is either ON or OFF; there is no other possibility. However, the requirement is to lock all the doors, unlock only the driver door, unlock the driver and passenger door, or unlock all of the doors on this four door car. Therefore, I am expected to do one of four things with a control that can only do one thing. The designer adds a circuit to make a push button act like a virtual rotary switch. First press – unlock the driver door. Second press – unlocks the passenger door. Third press – unlocks all of the doors. Fourth press – locks all of the doors.
Putting the push button into action can have mixed results.  One day, I am in the pouring rain at the driver’s door with my wife at the passenger’s door. I push the button once, and my door is unlocked. My wife is continuing to get wet, so I push the button a few more times to unlock her door, but I mistakenly relock all of the doors. Needless to say, she is not a happy camper: “Will you quit fooling around and open my G—D—door!” Trying to do too much with too little.
Let’s kick it up a notch and look at a modern phone with its small screen display, 19 buttons and a four-way rocker switch. The screen gives me some rather cryptic messages about what I can do by pressing certain switches. I can store a phone number with an associated name by using the ten button key pad that mainly serves to enter a phone number. But the function changes over to enter a name by assigning letters to each of the ten switches. How to enter one of 26 letters with only ten switches? They assign several letters to each switch and use a virtual rotary switch circuit to select the letters.

What result did I get? My name is not “Chbrleq,” but that is what got entered.
Trying to do too much with too little.
One more notch up is the utterly fantastic smart phone. I wonder if the people that designed it even know all its possibilities. Let’s focus on messaging. Type a message and instantly send it anywhere in the world. Unbelievable! Since no one wants to carry a phone the size of a portable computer, it has a small screen to give it the reduced size to fit in a pocket. That means there is a very small virtual keypad.

To compose a message using this miniature typewriter style keyboard, you use your finger(s), or more commonly, both of your thumbs. To save time and effort, we use a degenerate form of the English language that must have its core roots in military jargon: “It caused me to LMAO when my GF told me that ISTG I was JK and am SRY so PLZ HML.”  (Ask your kid for a translation)
Trying to do too much with too little (i.e. too little intelligence?)
Now brace yourself for the coming wave of AI (artificial intelligence) devices. This will create a revolution in transportation. Among other things, Driver’s Ed will no longer be taught in schools as it will be no longer necessary since there will be no way you can actually drive a car. You will use your cell phone to hail a module. You’ll get in it, tell it where you want to go, then stretch out, and watch the world go by.  You may think you can light up (cigarette or a joint in certain states), but hold on – this module is populated with cameras and sensors and has an AI program that makes a smart phone seem crude. “Please extinguish your device now as smoking is not permitted in this module. I will stop operating until this is done” is the message from the firm voice on the screen. You will obey the rules – no exception! (Unless of course you’re a congressman who has a “rules exempt” password.)

The vehicle will obey what it is programmed to do without fail. In the unfortunate event that there is an imminent collision possibility such as hitting a drunk wandering in the street or slamming into the semi-truck in the other lane, it will make a faultless pre-programmed ethical choice (Let’s hope that you agree with it). There is no question that lives will be saved as distracted driving will be a demon of the past. You better hope that the life that is saved is yours.
You see AI (artificial intelligence) is not real intelligence. It may be the ultimate test of trying to do too much with too little. (I hope you get to enjoy it). While it is still permitted, I am going to enjoy a drive in my classic Lincoln. Please join me and my fellow LCOC members before your car becomes a museum curiosity for you to visit in a UVT module.
(United Vehicle Transportation – a government certified AI module:(Cat 1 private, Cat 2 multi passenger, Cat 3 bus) “Please conduct yourself in an orderly manner as prescribed by regulation, or your ride-hailing permission will be revoked.”

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