Automated Processes can be Dumb!

I like computers.  I make my living writing software for them.  I like process automation, setting up actions to happen automatically, whenever human judgment isn’t needed to execute a process accurately or safely.  But some process automation sure can be dumb!

I was supposed to pick up my sister in law at the airport.  Her flight was scheduled to arrive at 5:00pm, so I planned to go directly from work to the airport.   Shortly before the flight was to depart, I went to the airline’s web site to check the flight’s status, and find out if it was on time.  I saw an option to have them send me alerts when things changed, and since I’d be sitting in the car waiting, I decided to select voicemail, instead of text message or email.  The deluge of calls began:

“The flight is scheduled to depart at 3:00pm”

“The flight is scheduled to depart at 3:04pm”

“The flight is scheduled to depart at 3:00pm”

“The flight departed at 3:06pm and is scheduled to arrive at 5:02”

“… arrive at 4:47”

“…arrive at 4:53”

“…arrive at 5:10”

“…arrive at 5:07”

“…landed at 5:03”

At one point, I received 3 calls within 90 seconds.

This is a problem of a dumb automated process.  It needed to have some logic included somewhere to keep track of the last time it called, and how much the change is, and decide it didn’t need to update me every time the airplane caught or lost a gust of tailwind.

It isn’t the computer’s fault.  Some developer somewhere was probably told by a manager they couldn’t afford to take the time to add that feature, because they had a deadline to meet.   Its better to annoy your customers with a badly done feature than not to have the feature at all, in some people’s minds.  Its all human decision making behind that process automation, and humans sure do make some stupid decisions.