I have some friends and relatives seem to be perpetually in and out of hospitals with one ailment or another. It is like their bodies are cursed, constantly trying to destroy itself. Other people seem to never get sick. Some do everything do extend their life only to drop dead early. Others seem to do the exact opposite and still live long and productive lives. One of the major concerns in this day in age is quality of life, making the most of human life for as long as possible.
I find this subject ties in with machines quite well.
One of my jobs is to try to predict the life expectancy of equipment on the College campus. Most people never think about the life expectancy of a home appliance they purchase, when you buy a water heater you expect that a new one will last….well a long time. How long? Who cares? Most people will move before a new appliance will wear out. But in a large facility this is of great concern. It’s a budget thing, a facility has to try to predict how much to expect to pay for replacing equipment over the long run. The hard part is determining when equipment will fail. This depends upon a number of factors including intensity of use, environment, initial quality, maintenance practices, etc. What I have found interesting is that while all these factors can be accounted for, some pieces of equipment don’t seem to want to follow the rules. It’s almost like they have a will of their own. Some pieces of equipment seem to give up the ghost quickly no mater how much you baby them. Others seem to run forever regardless of abuse or neglect.
This is simply part of a curve where the majority of equipment falls into a predictable timeline of birth, life, degradation, constant life support then inevitable death. Sure there are the few who never get a chance to life a fulfilling life, and others that seem to run fine when all logic says it should seize up and croak. For example: I have an air compressor in one of our oldest buildings that has been running with out fail since 1975. It’s a critical piece of equipment that the whole building depends upon, so here is a stack of spare parts sitting in the corner waiting for some sort of failure. Some of the spare parts were purchased before I graduated from high school. It still chugs away, day after day. I like to think of this as one extreme of the curve. There is another air compressor that was recently installed in a new building that seems determined to die an early and humiliating death. The poor thing has been babied, and cared for religiously and has received many new parts (under warranty) but it still persists in leaking oil, seizing up, or blowing fuses and the manufacture can’t seem to figure out why. It’s the other extreme end of the curve.
These examples of the tragic and heroic lives of machines started me to think, if people demand a good quality of life in their final years, so should machines. Let’s face it when we become old and fragile we have to put up with all kinds of humiliating and degrading processes as our bodies slowly betray themselves and eventually fail. Machines face a similar fate. I feel for the poor air compressor that has to have a portable air compressor piped into its tank to act as a back up system. Like emergency life support. How embarrassing must it be to have a constant pile of kitty litter under its compressor head to catch sporadically leaking fluids? It’s sad to think that the poor thing will end up being replaced and discarded years and years before its time. How do you improve the quality of life of machine?
It reminds me of the movie Wall.E When I watched that little robot doggedly picking up garbage and working while his companions slowly rot away I thought about how the other robots must have felt. Did they feel envy or respect? Were they wondering what they did wrong with their lives? Can robots have bad habits or poor diets that caused their early demise? Sure Wall.E just the extreme of the curve but how much did his attitude affect his longevity?
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if there was a way to communicate with machines and instill them with a positive attitude? Like a doctor Doolittle who can talk to the machines. This would be a fine ability for a person of good moral character, but in the wrong hands it would be a disaster. Some people believe that plants can pick up on emotions; maybe machines behave in a similar manor.
This theory kind of helps put a new spin of the Terminator movies. Maybe cyber-net was just channeling all the pissed off window user’s emotions. Computers sensitive to “Negative waves” and thus decided our fate in a millisecond. This may also explain the Borg, Darth Vader, Gort, and a number of others in science fiction.
I like to think that a good positive attitude will eventually pay off. It certainly helps in my quality of life. Now only if I could get the machines around here to understand.