In the past few weeks, our news has been heavily driven by the drama around and search for Malaysian Airlines flight 370. The theories have been numerous, ranging from conspiracy to terrorist attacks to mechanical failure. What has made fewer headlines, though, is the role, or as some would argue, the lack thereof, of technology in the search for the plane. The biggest question has become “With all of our advancements in technology, how can a plane just disappear?”
Some argue that technology is lacking. As Brian Fung from the Washington Post puts it:[quote author=” “]“For lack of alternatives, our search techniques are little more sophisticated than simple trial-and-error. The flight recorder isn’t here? Move onto the next grid. The painstaking process is a grim reminder of how some technology tends to plateau once it’s gotten good enough.”1[/quote]
Mr. Fung’s article asks the question of why our technology in the area of flight tracking isn’t up to par, and I see his point. In very few fields have we stopped innovating once we find a partial answer to a problem. That would be like saying “We’ve found a treatment for cancer, there’s no need to continue searching for a cure.” Particularly when it comes to health care or safety, we should never stop questioning if our systems are good enough. It’s true: good enough is always good enough until it’s not. This is how so many of our great tech companies came about. Most of them are answers to a problem or an improvement on an already existing product. These are people who see the potential opportunity for betterment and jump at it. This search for flight 370 is an opportunity for this kind of progress. Let’s take advantage of what we’ve learned from this tragedy and use it to do what we do best: create life-changing and life-saving technologies. Let’s also use this as a reminder to never stop innovating. No matter how great our product or service is, always ask the question: “what can we do better?”
This is not to say, however, that technology hasn’t played a role in the search for the plane. Civinomics recently posted an article detailing how crowdsourcing has improved the search. In particular, the article highlighted a website call Tomnod (run by satellite company Digital Globe) on which anyone can visit the website, search the satellite images, and place tags on what may be debris from the plane. If a significant number of people tag a specific area, “then the site’s administrators will conduct a more rigorous investigation of that image and relay the information to authorities.”2 The idea behind this strategy is to a) utilize the efforts of millions of people who are eager to help and b) triage resources to areas where the plane is most likely to be.
This shows that technology is definitely not dead in this field. What has come out of this search effort though has been largely reactive. However, as Mr. Fung intimates, the proactive technology is where we can see improvements. To his point, let’s use the technology resources at our disposal and begin to think about how we can prevent these situations in the future. More importantly though, let’s keep innovating in all areas no matter how great our current technology is. The world will keep changing and, for the good of everyone, we have to be sure that we continue to change with it.
1Fung, Brian. (2014). For all our technology, the way we’re searching for the Malaysian airliner is really old school. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/31/for-all-our-technology-the-way-were-searching-for-the-malaysian-airliner-is-really-old-school/
2Sterten, Russell. (2014). Crowdsourcing Malaysia Flight 370. Civinomics: Tipping Point. Retrieved from http://civinomics.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/crowdsourcing-malaysia-flight-370/
Feature image via www.tomnod.com