by Gary Beach

Technology’s Promise: The Underwhelming Features

Dec 01, 20003 mins

Technology this. Technology that. Every cure for every ill seems to have a technology component. Some good. Some not so good.

Like those smiling/frowning masks you can buy along Bourbon Street in New Orleans, several days last month showed me two very different faces of technology innovation.

The first episode started innocently enough. My wife and I took her parents to lunch to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. After the meal, my father-in-law grabbed me by the arm and said, “Come on outside. I want to show you something.”

As we exited the restaurant he proudly pointed to his brand-new car. He opened the door, told me to sit in the driver’s seat and excitedly said, “I want to show you some really neat technology.” Hmm, I wondered to myself, what’s next?

“Put your foot on the brake,” he instructed me as he reached to activate a button on the driver’s seat side. Immediately the brake and gas pedal moved forward then backward in unison. “This is an incredible innovation,” he proclaimed. “Just think, now your mother-in-law will not have to adjust the seat before she drives the car.”

I nodded politely as I thought to myself, Wow, the workers in Detroit have really outdone themselves with this totally underwhelming feature.

The next day, however, my faith in technology’s promise was renewed.

With 434 other teens, my daughter had attended the National Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit is sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving ( and is held every four years. The goal of this year’s summit was to have the teenage delegates (one from each of the 435 congressional districts in the United States) propose solutions on how to prevent underage drinking to congressional lawmakers.

One of their proposals, which was presented to the media at a Boston news conference the day after my in-law luncheon, relied on the power of technology and made a lot of sense to me.

The kids came up with this idea: Challenge the automobile industry to make alcohol-sensing ignition systems mandatory, just like seatbelts and airbags, on all cars, SUVs and trucks. No date was set for compliance.

Brilliant, I thought.

How should technology innovation be deployed by the automobile industry? Should it keep on its current path to turn our cars and SUVs into mobile offices traveling 60 miles per hour? Or should it listen to the National Youth Summit recommendation and collectively work together to use technology to make it more difficult for drunk drivers to operate a vehicle?

I think the answer is clear.

As chief information officers, you know how technology used well can lower costs. The time is now for the automobile industry to leverage technology to reduce the appalling number of individuals killed each year in crashes caused by drivers operating under the influence of alcohol.

Drop me an e-mail, and I will make sure your voice is heard in Detroit and by lawmakers in Washington, D.C.