As the world gets more connected and computerized, it is easy to have an unintended consequence pop up and bite you. Especially because, so much of the time, today, things just work. The days of fretting over how to connect two computers, or how to store reasonable amounts of data are gone. Most of us never have to sift through assembly language programs finding three extra bytes to add a feature. Some Russian scientists recently found out about unintended consequences the hard way.
In the United States, the Eagle was long on the endangered species list, but apparently they have a similar problem in Russia. Scientists put a tracker on some migrating eagles in southern Russia and Kazakhstan. A few decades ago, this would have been a big technical challenge, but now you just use cellular technology and have the tracker text its location, right?
The problem, however, is the birds left the cellular service area and wound up in Iran and Pakistan after being out of cellular range. Text messages that had cost between 3 cents and 23 cents shot up to 77 cents causing the tracking scientist’s phone bill to skyrocket as the devices sent data to catch up.
The press coverage isn’t very technical, so we don’t know if they could have consolidated messages to save money or even incorporated geofencing so as not to text out of the local calling area. But it is a great case of where something that seems fine doesn’t do well once you deploy it.
We couldn’t help thinking about Tesla’s recent flash wear problem as being similar. Not to mention the time we sent a device with a modem programmed for TouchTone dialing to a pole in the middle of nowhere that only had regular dialing available. Some issues don’t show up for years, so a working system is no promise you won’t eventually have an unexpected problem.
Photo credit: T.R. Shankar Raman CC-SA-3.0.