The episode of the popular TV show “The Office” in which boss Michael Scott diligently follows his car’s GPS guidance into a pond seemed like an exaggeration for comic effect.
A Washington State driver ended up in a lake after a GPS device mistook a boat launch for a road, according to ConsumerAffairs.com. Three young women fled a sinking SUV after their GPS led them into a lake near Seattle, according to Salon.com. Tourists in Australia drove into shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean following their GPS directions.
The latest drivers to be wildly misled remained on dry land, thankfully. Unfortunately, it was very sandy land in the remote Pine Barrens and their rescues required expensive towing.
Drivers mostly from New York and northern New Jersey thought the Waze navigation app on their phones was taking them to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. But although the ad on Waze listed the correct address of 1 Borgata Way in Atlantic City, the location pinned to the digital map where Waze headed was in the 12,900-acre Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area in Jackson Township. If their great adventure managed to get to the spot Waze was taking them before they got stuck, they would have been near the north end of the military’s Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The Jackson Police Department figured something was wrong when they got about 10 calls from cars stuck near Lake Success. When drivers told them they were following an ad on their phone’s navigation to the Borgata, police notified Waze to fix the mistake and put up a warning on township and county websites.
Since many people probably called AAA for a tow instead of the police, the number of misled and stranded drivers was probably higher.
Global Positioning System navigation built into vehicles, through smartphones or by freestanding devices use satellite signals, digital maps and small computers to guide drivers and help keep them safe by providing relevant information during their trip. That’s good. If all goes as planned, this primitive artificial intelligence system will accurately locate the vehicle and its destination to within about 16 feet.
But mistakes will be made by device designers and users, maps won’t be up to date and satellite signals will disappear or bounce off buildings and other things.
The lost pinelands drivers obviously didn’t look at the Waze map of where they were going. Coastal Atlantic City looks nothing like the remote pinelands on a map. Checking that the navigation makes basic sense should be routine — just like checking that a math answer is approximately what it must be.
Other good GPS habits include using ZIP codes to correctly distinguish between similar or otherwise identical addresses, and checking the roads and highways chosen by the navigation.
Stuck in sand in the pinelands is a painful lesson, but it could be worse.
GPS confusion led a New Jersey man to drive off the road and into a house. A Pennsylvania woman who believed her GPS more than road signs and traffic patterns crashed head-on into traffic going the correct way.
Even as AI gets much more capable, people should keep using their (potentially) far more capable brains to ensure they’re not blindly guided to a big mistake.