COLUMN: Smarter doesn't always mean better

The M23 is one of a number where smart motorways are planned / Picture by Derek Martin
The M23 is one of a number where smart motorways are planned / Picture by Derek Martin

Surely it should be good that we are getting ‘smarter’, but how many highly intelligent people have you met over the years with no common sense? Perhaps that runs true for so-called ‘smart’ motorways that have been blamed for causing accidents.

Highways England insist they are safe, but critics have dubbed the use of hard shoulders during busy periods as ‘dumb’ rather than smart, with the AA saying using all lanes ‘makes a motorway hugely vulnerable when accidents or breakdowns occur’.

Variable speed control generally seems to work well (except when roads are obviously clear) but perhaps using hard shoulders is a step too far until connectivity between cars and road systems is perfected.

Then there is the wider use of ‘smart’ technology known as IOT (the internet of things) where items link to each other. At home that can be anything from appliances such as kettles or toasters connecting with heating, lighting, water and alarm systems and being operated remotely by smart phones.

At work, business systems may be controlled from design of a product through to delivery to a customer and all this innovation is likely to be accelerated as 5G or even 6G networks bring faster connectivity and downloads.

There is also more AI (artificial intelligence) on the horizon.

For those of a certain age IOT doesn’t seem as quaint as Dick Van Dyke’s breakfast-making invention in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and while there are obvious advantages when it works, all too frequently it doesn’t.

Technology lovers will cite convenience, efficiency and increased security but those with luddite tendencies will see more to go wrong, use by criminals and big brother concerns. I start in the ‘whatever next?’ camp, viewing new technology with mild disdain but then having used it and been convinced it works, I can become a convert who can’t do without it!

Take my car as an example, I haven’t bothered to try some features like voice recognition (I have tried it with the TV remote but it seems weird and it doesn’t like my voice) but now cannot do without cruise control.

I must get around to another that sounds great – it can be set up to defrost and warm up in the morning without being unlocked (to keep the insurers happy) but I know it will be complicated to set up.

If you look at the risks involved, there is a similar balancing act.

Take out human intervention and arguably less can go wrong, but you lose the human instinct (we blindly follow the SatNav even though your gut tells you it’s wrong) and when it does, it is probably best to have a human to hand.

Certainly, the increased reliance on inter-connected systems is bringing greater risk and will cause larger losses when things do go wrong. It is also clear that ‘cyber’ risks will become the biggest concern either indirectly causing fires or injury etc in the event of malfunctions or the ‘conventional’ cyber risks of virus, hacking, ransoms and cybercrime.

Insurance is adapting to these new connectivity risks but will also need to be more joined up and probably ‘smarter’ to keep pace.