My sense of direction probably puts me in the top .001% for all humanity. I have a built-in GPS system in my head. I am very proud of this fact, since I don't really stick out (in a positive way, that is) in most other categories. I don't have matinee idol looks, and my personality, while OK for an engineer, doesn't really cut it at cocktail parties with non-engineers. But when it comes to sense of direction, I just can't get lost. Drop me down in an utterly foreign place, and within five minutes I'll know where I am and how to go to where I want to go. It's a gift.
So because of my great talent, I don't really get the concept of GPS devices. Everyone was so excited a few years ago when the talking boxes first came out. You could put them in your car and never get lost. Big whoop- I've never gotten lost, and I didn't need Garmin for that.
The other day, my wife, Lauren, was driving my daughter Rachel to a friend's house, and Garmin lost it. Lauren had to drive by the house three times, because Garmin had no idea where it was. Recalculating... recalculating. They would get close to the house, and then maybe the satellite dipped behind the moon or was clocked by a meteorite or something. Eventually Lauren found the house, but she figured it out in spite of Garmin. I listened to Lauren's tale of woe with GPS disdain. Garmin didn't know where a house was? The GPS didn't work? We can solve that problem. Next time, just bring me in the car.
To be only slightly sympathetic to Garmin and her ilk, I should point out that the Boston area is no paradise when it comes to GPS routing. Boston’s Back Bay is about the only logical and organized area for streets. Everywhere else, the roads were planned by cows or Paul Revere.
The GPS nadir occurred a few years ago during construction of the Central Artery Project. The huge project resulted in frequent changes to roads and routes. At that time, the GPS maps couldn’t keep up with the rapid changes to the streetscape. No doubt that some drivers looking for pizza in Medford ended up in Quebec. Since then, things have definitely improved. But the computer will never be perfect, and certainly not as good as the .001% of the population that has idiot savant innate GPS skills.
The story of Man Versus Machine is an ongoing tale. During the last few weeks, a supercomputer has been battling it out with human Jeopardy champs. I’m hoping that someone will come up with a human versus machine GPS derby. It will be me against Garmin. They’ll set us loose on the streets of Boston. Garmin will struggle. Computer-generated sweat will pour from her circuits. She will be recalculating… recalculating. Finally, she’ll arrive at the tournament destination, where I will have been comfortably relaxing in the shade, sipping on an ice tea for over an hour. I’ll say to Garmin, “What took you so long?”