Monday, February 8, 2010

The computer strikes back

A New York Times article ("The Dozens of Computers That Make Modern Cars Go") says "the electronic systems in modern cars and trucks ... are packed with up to 100 million lines of computer code, more than in some jet fighters." Even entry-level cars now have about 30 "electronic control units," and some luxury vehicles have as many as 100. As the recent Toyota fiasco demonstrates, the current generation of engineers may be losing their grip on this level of technological complexity - if they have to manage it at an affordable price. It also emerges Toyota have a history of recognizing and responding slowly in cases involving safety problems. There is some research suggesting that the ability of individuals to acknowledge errors and change course is related to their anxiety levels in response to the challenges they face. Apparently, neither the senior management (who would likely be thick-skinned at any company), nor senior engineers (with their can-do attitude) were prone to generating appropriate levels of anxiety in those cases. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Toyota's current problems will be only a blip which is unlikely to cause any long-term damage to their brand. If I had a stake in Toyota's rebound, I would have been way more anxious than that.