I am increasingly becoming frustrated by 'smart tech', systems designed to help us complete tasks, but that all too often actually impede delivery. For example, my work means I need to leave home early and, as I wish to watch the news when eating breakfast, I activate my satellite box. This is however connected to the television in my lounge, and that TV decides it also should switch on: I then have to quickly switch this TV off to avoid waking the rest of the family!
Talking to others in the utility industry it appears they suffer similar frustrations. Whilst IT applications deciding you meant to type one word when you meant another can be annoying, IT that decides to wrongly alter the settings of operational equipment can have very severe consequences. Even in sectors that are extremely safety focussed, such as amusement parks, software errors have caused serious incidents, such as in the Big One rollercoaster crash at Blackpool (http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240040871/Software-fix-failed-to-avert-Blackpool-crash). In utilities, where errors can have fatal consequences, the need for caution is even greater.
The benefits of the latest 'smart tech' are however great, and utilities are keen to embrace them, but at the same time are rightly concerned about the potential risk. I thus believe that we need to focus on 'obedient tech', systems and devices that can advise and help us to make effective decisions, but require human input to effect an action. A good example of this is a 'well known' web based shopping service, that gives excellent advice on potential purchases (similar items, etc.) and guides users through simple processes, but leaves all decisions to the user. In utilities an example is a grid operator who uses Operational Decision Support Analytics to monitor transformer temperature against ambient temperature and load, building normal profiles. The system then flags in near real time when transformer temperature goes outside of the determined normal operating ranges, however it is the operator who decides on the appropriate intervention. There are systems that do automate actions (e.g. the Cardiff East Control Strategy - http://www.waterprojectsonline.com/case_studies/2010/DCWW_Cardiff_East_2010.pdf), but these work within very strictly controlled boundaries. It may be that 'self learning' devices are developed to a point where utilities have confidence in their decisions, however I suspect that will not be for some time.
Perhaps it is time we all aimed to be a little less 'smart', and a bit more 'obedient'!