Computers control so many aspects of everyday life, it’s easy to take conveniences for granted. For example, you probably don’t think twice about reading articles online, but it took an entire army of computers to connect you to the internet. Not far in the future, computerized drones will be responsible for delivering your Amazon packages.
Here are five common ways computers control everyday life:
- Your car
Most people know cars are controlled by computers to some degree. The interesting (and scary) part is modern cars are being controlled by wireless networks.
Automakers have been installing wireless networks under the hood for decades, but they’ve always been closed local networks. Now, that’s not the case.
It sounds like science fiction, but consumers and car dealerships are starting to experience the creepy and dangerous feeling of someone controlling a vehicle from afar.
For example, like many others, a used car lot in Texas installs a wireless device behind all dashboards to remind customers of overdue payments. The device takes control over some vehicle functions when a payment is missed. Unfortunately for the dealership, their wireless network got hacked by some serious pranksters. More than 100 customers experienced horns honking in the middle of the night and in the morning, discovered their starter had been disabled.
According to the Washington Post, security researchers have repeatedly shown that most Internet of Things (IoT) devices can be hacked. They joke that IoT now stands for “Internet of Targets.”
Another article from the Washington Post describes an experiment where two people hacked into an SUV and took control of the air conditioning, windshield wipers, and eventually cut power to the engine on a busy highway.
- Passenger accommodations on an airplane
In addition to autopilot software and the myriad functions required to program the actual flight of a plane, passenger accommodations are largely controlled by computers, too.
On many planes, flight attendants control an extensive amount of options from a digital control panel. Boarding music, cabin climate, cabin power, and LED lighting are just some remote controlled cabin accommodations. Next to dimmable windows, the coolest part is the ability to manipulate all seats with one touch when it’s time to clean the cabin.
- Your finances
Money is a complex thing now that most transactions take place online. Your ability to access funds in your bank account depends on multiple computers. Sometimes computers malfunction and often they’re just not programmed to deal with things like leap year.
In 2012, the extra day in February caused Australia’s Health Industry Claims and Payments Service (HICAPS) to crash. According to the system, February 29th didn’t exist. More than 150,000 customers were unable to use their private health care cards to complete medical transactions. The Commonwealth Bank also saw its ATMs and EFTPOS systems fail for the same reason.
- Your travel plans
In the U.S., computers control flight plans for air travel. That means your vacation and any other traveling you do by airplane are at the whim of a computer. One glitch could keep you from getting to your destination, or leave you stranded on your way home.
In 2007, failed computer parts caused 566 flight delays. In 2009, a simple router board malfunction caused delays and cancellations for passengers around the country
In August 2003, faulty software on a computer failed to detect a local power outage, and thrust 55 million people into the dark. This became known as the Northeast blackout of 2003 and was the second most widespread blackout in history since the 1999 Southern Brazil blackout. Some people had power restored that same evening, but others didn’t have power for two days.
The blackout was caused when software failed to alert operators of the need to redistribute the power load after overloaded power lines drooped into some bushes. Under normal circumstances, the situation would have been a minor local blackout, but it ended up collapsing the entire grid.
What will computers control in the future?
Computers power just about everything we rely on for daily living. Even brick-and-mortar businesses depend on computers like cash registers, POS software programs, and online payment processors just to stay in business. Smart technology is slowly turning every home appliance into an IoT device. Thanks to computer technology, we can tell a robot to search for a local business, and use words to tell our coffee maker when to start brewing. What do you think will be next?