Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, the TSA has stepped up its screening practices with a choice between a high-powered scanner or a rather intrusive pat-down.  Just as a friend posted earlier this week, I take issue with the idea that we need to participate in this three-ring circus.

The deeper problem, though, is our prevailing attitude towards technology, as if it's this panacea that's going to save us from goofing up at work or getting blown up on a plane, even if we take out rational thought processes.  I see this at work when an analyst fires up a piece of software that he doesn't really understand and spends two hours on an analysis that he could have done with a five minute hand calculation.  Oftentimes, he doesn't even know that his results are unreliable based on his inputs because he doesn't understand the fundamentals of what the software is trying to mimic.  I see this in the parent-hysteria marketplace with GPS trackers for our kids, as if a kidnapper would never think to toss the kid's backpack from the outset.  And we seem especially susceptible to technology worship when someone mentions the word "terrorist" or the phrase "homeland security".  These words should be re-labeled as "fear of the unknown."  How did we get so distrustful of our own instincts?
Is it the marketing, the fear of not being objective enough and/or getting sued, or are we just purely in lust with the whiz-bang factor of complicated machinery and the like?  I wish I knew.  

Here are a few facts to inform you of the impact of your choices at the airport this season:

1.  It wasn't so long ago that world-renowned hospital Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles was found to have accidentally zapped over 200 CT scan patients with more radiation than they thought they were using . . . This mistake went undetected for 18 months.  The CTs were set up by medical professionals.  The airport scanners are set up by the TSA.

3. The fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guards against unlawful search and seizure.  I am pretty sure this extends to my private parts.  

4. This poor 3 year old girl.  I can't even imagine what I would do if they did this to my daughter.

5. Not one of the terror incidents on planes in the United States (including 9/11) would have been caught by this new scanning process or the pat-down and not by previous procedures.  Not one.  This process does not scan for liquids, so if you soak yourself in turpentine, you'd still get by (if you wore a ton of cologne I guess).

6. It is only a matter of time until a terrorist sidesteps this process somehow, builds a better bomb, etc.  We're treating this like an arms race when the terrorists treat it like more of a process to terrify us.  Looks like it's working very well.

7. People are getting rich off of this of course.  People you're at least vaguely familiar with.

8. Take a look at this book.  I read it while in college and it is still the best literature I have ever found on the topic.

9. If you are more inclined towards a business approach, I refer you to Lean and Theory of Constraints approaches - technology is almost never the answer.  As Edward Deming once said, "If you design it for any idiot to use, any idiot will."

In short, unless technology starts to approach the levels seen in The Matrix, all the scanners in the world are never going to be able to protect you as well as a human being with human instincts, intuition, and ability to read behavior, who has the backing of the authorities and/or their employer (as the case may be) to act on those instincts.  That applies to scanners as well as analysis software and stranger danger.  

No comments:

Post a Comment