The perfect bus system for home-schooled kids
I am a fan of the AMC TV series “Humans” and other fictional speculation about artificial intelligence. A common theme is that when “the machines” achieve consciousness, homo sapiens will be toast.
The self-aware robots will be so much smarter and quicker than us that we won’t be able to compete. We won’t recognize the threat in time, and they will pull the plug on us before we can pull the plug on them.
Stephen Hawking and other top scientists have warned that AI could backfire and spell the end of humanity. Against that potentially grim backdrop, Palm Beach County‘s school bus fiasco provides reassurance that “the machines” don’t yet have quite enough intelligence to take over the world.
In fact, they don’t have quite enough intelligence to take over drawing school bus routes in Palm Beach County.
The Palm Beach County School District had this great idea to make it possible for parents to track their kids’ school bus routes online. District officials liked the idea so much they decided to implement it in six months instead of the recommended 18.
As part of the “upgrade,” transportation officials used software to draw the district’s 2,000 bus routes. Since everybody knows that computers are smarter than people, the transportation guys didn’t bother to get input from the humans who actually drive the buses.
Computer geeks are highly educated and highly paid. They’re just one step away from being AI robots themselves. They can’t be expected to take advice from bus drivers who make a couple bucks an hou.
Not that computer geeks of any stripe are particularly interested in hearing what lowly users have to say. How many times have you visited a website and, after trying in vain to order a product or contact someone who can help, ended up asking yourself: “Has anybody who designed this Web page ever actually tried to use it?”
If the school district’s techies had listened to the bus drivers, they would have known obvious things, for example that a bus can’t arrive and depart at the same time. You have to allow time for real kids, as opposed to the virtual kind, to get on and off the bus.
In some cases, the buses could not physically get from one stop to the next in the allotted time. Others routes required kids to cross busy streets. Buses were mysteriously re-scheduled to arrive at high schools at 7:15 instead of 7:00, an unauthorized change that set up cascading delays when those same buses were supposed to be used for later routes at middle and elementary schools.
On top of all that, the school system didn’t have enough drivers, not too surprising given the dismal pay and level of respect. So all in all, the new software created the perfect bus system — for kids who are home-schooled.
About 40 percent of buses were late the first day. Delays and no-shows continued through the first week. I no longer have a child in the Palm Beach County school system. But I remember all the angst associated with bus travel, and I feel for the parents trying to cope — not to mention trying to get to work themselves.
My secret suspicion is that the Palm Beach County bus mess is the work of an artificial intelligence entity that wasn’t quite ready to deal a devastating blow. The bus glitch did not destroy humankind. The district essentially unplugged the prematurely ambitious software and, according to a notice on its website, pulled together a group of employees to work directly with the transportation team to help resolve these issues.”
Score one for the humans!
It is likely, however, that some human heads will roll. Superintendent Robert Avossa has promised to hold accountable those who failed. He has complained that no one warned him of the impending disaster, and despite his record-setting salary, Avossa apparently did not feel it was necessary to personally verify that students could actually get to school.
His stance definitely is not artificial intelligence. It is basic human intelligence. Whenever possible, throw someone else under the bus.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg has covered regional, state and national issues for three decades. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.