Monday, February 21, 2011

(empo-tuulwey) Tools, when used correctly, can have unintended consequences

As a former product manager, I am well aware that my vision for a product may not be the same as the way in which the customer wants to use the product. We can probably all thing of examples in which some uses the product in the so-called "wrong" way, but gets a wonderful benefit out of this supposed misuse.

But the reverse also holds true. You can use a product exactly the way that the designers intended it to be used, and very bad things can happen.

If you don't believe me, consider this - use of a spellchecker can result in death.

I'm not kidding.

Spellcheckers, whether found on your computer or on your cell phone, are problematic things. First, spellcheckers may be out of date; for example, the spellchecker that is monitoring this blog post is unaware of the word "Facebook." Second, spellcheckers are (obviously) language-dependent; if I suddenly start typing in French or in German, when the spellchecker is expecting English text, the spellchecker will freak out. Third, even if the spellchecker and the typist are using the same language, there could be dialect, slang, or other issues that send the spellchecker awry.

So, let's say that you're in the United Kingdom, and your name is Neil, and you send an SMS message to your friend Josef. You type the word "mutter," but your cellphone helpfully uses predictive text to auto-correct the word so that it instead reads "nutter."

To say that Josef was displeased when he received this text message is an understatement. The Daily Mail:

[Josef] Witkowski went round to [Neil] Brook's flat in Walkden, Greater Manchester....

Mr Witkowski had gone to [Brook's] flat with a knife, looking for a fight...

And he got one.

In advance of the visit [Brook] had fitted knives to the door and near his bathroom in his flat which hit [Witkowski] in the leg.

After suffering a knife wound, Mr Witkowski sought sanctuary in the bathroom, but Brook smashed his way through and continued the assault.

The Bolton News said Manchester Crown Court heard the victim had 104 injuries including cuts, stab wounds, bruises and slice marks on his hands, with the fatal blow piercing his heart.

The jury determined that Brook was NOT guilty of murder, but was guilty of manslaughter.

But before you start campaigning to ban cell phones, I just want to remind you - cell phones don't kill people. People do.

H/T, which was shared by a co-worker of mine on Facebook. I am going to be very very careful when I send messages to that co-worker.

However, Daggle suggests that we should all be referring to this story in the Bolton News, which appears to be the original source used by everyone. Be sure to check the Bolton News item for additional information.

And if you're interested in the whole issue of citation, see the comment from Jennifer Guevin of CNET at the Daggle post.
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