Archive for November 21st, 2010

Those GAO Reports

From Holly Doodruff Lyons, those GAO reports I promised:

1.)    “Systematic Planning Needed to Optimize the Deployment of Checked Baggage Screening Systems”, (GAO-05-365, March 2005)

According to TSA’s analysis, in-line EDS would reduce by 78 percent the number of TSA baggage screeners and supervisors required to screen checked baggage at these nine airports, from 6,645 to 1,477 screeners and supervisors.” (Page 42).

2.)    Classified GAO Report (April 2005), GAO reviewed the TSA’s own covert screener testing data and concluded that TSA’s data indicated that passenger checkpoint screeners at airports participating in the PP5 Program performed better overall on the tests than checkpoint screeners at the totally Federalized airports.  GAO concluded that differences in these test results were statistically significant.

3.)    “Screener Training and Performance Measurement Strengthened, but More Work Remains”, (GAO-05-457, May 2005)

For the two-year period reviewed, overall failure rates for covert tests (passenger and checked baggage) conducted at airports using private-sector screeners were somewhat lower than failure rates for the same tests conducted at airports using federal screeners for the airports tested during this period.” (Page 34).

4.)    “Aviation Security: TSA’s Cost and Performance Study of Private-Sector Airport Screening”, (GAO-09-27R, January 2009)

The limitations in the design of TSA’s study comparing the cost and performance of SPP and non-SPP airports were due to several key factors related to the study’s purpose and data availability.  For example, TSA officials stated that they did not include some cost elements in the study because they wanted to determine the impact of the SPP on TSA’s budget, rather than to determine the impact to the federal government as a whole.  In addition, for its comparison of performance, TSA analyzed measures for which information was most complete, among other things.  Because of these limitations, we [GAO] believe that TSA should not use the study as sole support for major policy decisions regarding the SPP.”

No Comments

What Does Technology Want?

First, take about half an hour and listen to the following RadioLab podcast.  Go ahead, I’ll wait; the comments won’t make sense without it, and I don’t want to have to set up the whole thing, piece by piece, before commenting.

It’s an interesting question, then.  Does technology have to have advanced more or less in the way that it did?  Or could certain things have been invented sooner, or later?  Did we have to get the railroad about the same time as the telegraph?  Did we have to wait for the automobile until well after the telephone?  The authors would seem to say yes.

Why do things get invented?  Because all the necessary technologies have been invented, they answer.  It’s like a chess game, where you can only make certain moves once the board’s in a certain position, i.e., once the moves needed to get there have been made.

I’m not so sure.  There’s a point, somewhere in the mid-to-late 1800s, stretching until the 1920s or so, when things seem to get invented at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to believe that the order was pre-ordained, that there weren’t just so many potential useful inventions out there waiting to be invented, that they didn’t overwhelm the number of inventors at least a little bit.  If that’s so, then technology advances at least as much because people are looking in a certain place, as much as that the tools for inventing it were around.

Take the space program.  There’s no reason to believe that the tools for a civilian space program weren’t lying around in 1960.  What was lacking was the belief that anyone other than the government could make it happen.  Or so-called “green energy.”  As much as we’re subsidizing its development, there’s no reason to think there won’t be some breakthroughs there, but we’ll never know the opportunity cost of those breakthroughs.  Suppose we just built a bunch of nuclear power plants, and all those inventors had to go to work on household appliances or nanotechnology instead?

Another fascinating notion, tantalizingly cut short in the radio piece, is the notion that technological evolution seems to be an extension of the evolutionary processes that produced us.  As a believer who also believes in human evolution, that was a bit jarring at first.  No doubt, some materialists would choose to believe that it obviates the need for a creator.  But this, like all Ideas, is self-proving.  To a believer, it’s perfectly reasonable that if we’re created in God’s image, then our intelligence is a reflection of His.  The authors can’t quite being themselves to say that.

The notion that our networks will self-actualize at some point isn’t a new idea; science fiction authors have been playing with it for years, and they generally aren’t as sanguine as the two authors are.  I remember reading an Asimov story where the telephone network gains consciousness, and SkyNet is another example.

Towards the end, I think they read Krulwich’s unease incorrectly.  There’s something at least unsettling about the idea that we’re just midwives for other intelligences, that we’re not the logical end of evolution, but just another link in the chain.  Because if we are, then the intelligence that we’re creating may eventually decide we’re more trouble than we’re worth.  Krulwich isn’t, as one author states, worried about next Tuesday.  He really is worried about the next 10,000 years.

The risk, I believe, comes in taking them too literally.  I don’t really believe that the Internet will gain consciousness someday.  I do believe that the idea of man-and-his technology as an organism is useful as a metaphor for understanding what’s going on.  In an earlier edition, RadioLab accepts the metaphor that a city breathes energy in and out.  (But if they know that’s a metaphor, why do they so easily accept the Technology metaphor as real?)

, ,

No Comments