5 new things to worry about

Technology is great … until it turns on you.

The revelation that the U.S. government has giant computers logging the world’s telephone and Internet traffic surprised and outraged quite a few folks—although anyone who’s been paying attention should have been aware of the possibility.

(Graphic: Alex Williamson, The Economist)(Graphic: Alex Williamson, The Economist)

I’m kind of a tech geek, so I try to stay on top of technology. And it just so happens, in perusing the Web recently, I bumped into a number of items that should be of some interest to those in trucking.

None of the stories linked below should keep you up at night, yet, but you might want to keep them in mind—or make sure someone in your organization is aware of the possibility that a critical system could be misused.

(Of course, for practical truck tech, just follow CCJ’s Aaron Huff.)

  • Modern cars and trucks rely heavily microprocessors, and can do some amazing things because of the power of computers. It’s like a whole other internet sending instructions to your engine and brakes and steering wheel, even to a remote monitor. Uh-oh. Yep, you guessed it: Using a computer connected to a car’s On-Board Diagnostic System, hackers are able to cause vehicles “to do some scary things,” reports the tech journal Ars Technica.
  • Everyone wants to stay connected these days, even when driving.  So the makers of electronic devices provide plenty of options and services. The latest of these offer speech-to-text capability so drivers can send emails without having to use a keyboard, or even look at a screen.  Wow, on the road, on line and safe, right? Not at all, according to the New Scientist article.
  • A whole generation has now grown up with consumer-level GPS systems to get them where they’re going. Of course, you shouldn’t be shocked to learn that the little box on the dash can be made to do things it’s not supposed to do. And hackers don’t need to touch your hardware: They can just transmit a bogus signal and misdirect anyone who doesn’t recognize that they’re going the wrong way. Or, much more easily, GPS signals can be jammed. Learn to read a map, kids.
  • This tech news isn’t hot off the presses, but I’m passing along a reminder that Google is trying out the delivery business (and I keep reading about it). Throw in the services offered by eBay and Amazon, and we have a lot of really smart, motivated folks jumping into transportation. Their successes have been based on radical innovation, not simply improving the old ways of doing business. Trucking would do well to pay attention, to both the cooperative opportunities and the competitive risk.
  • This Rolling Stone story is about unintended consequences, related to the use of technologies meant to make life better. First, if you think global climate change is hokum, don’t bother reading and getting worked up about my being a lefty stooge. If, on the other hand, you have low-lying property on the coast, you might take the time to check out the claims of this rock’n’roll climate scientist. He upsets the science establishment with his brash predictions—and by being right.
  • Here’s a bonus link, for those fleet execs who pride themselves on staying ahead of the competition: HyperV Technologies Corp. is looking to raise a quick $250,000 to continue development of the Slingatron, technology aimed at “significantly lowering space transportation costs.” You saw it here first. …