Do Satnavs Dream of of Electric Sheep

In the pub last night I overheard the discussion, argument, pointed row that one might hear anywhere.

Satnav or map? Map or satnav?

There were the usual arguments on both sides. Satnavs are safer to use. Maps help you learn about where you are driving. Satnavs get you lost in unpredicatble ways. Maps work best if you are driving north. And so on and so forth. As usual with this argument, there was no clear winner and the conversation turned elsewhere (turn around when possible, as Ms Garmin might say).

I’m a satnav person myself. I like maps, but if I’m driving from A to B I like a little voice telling me how best to achieve that. Obviously, a passenger reading a map can do that. But if you don’t have a passenger, or you don’t have a passenger who can read a map, that’s of little use. And even if your passenger can read a map when you’re driving south, it’s more of a trauma if they send you up a cart track to a dead end than if the same thing happens because Ms Garmin’s maps are out of date.

But one thing that didn’t strike me until today was that satnavs can be dangerously funny. We all know the pronunciation can be a bit weird at times – Bevois is Beevus you stupid machine, not Behvwah – but I didn’t think there was an inbuilt sense of humour. Maybe this is the start of AI – artificial intelligence – and soon the Tom Tom drums will be beating to tell us our reign is over.

So what was it that brought this on? Not all roads have a name or number in the database from which the satnav dispenses its information. “Drive 800 yards along the Road, and then turn left” is not unusual in the countryside. These unnamed routes might be identified as Road or Street or Byway or by some other generic name. Occasionally there may be another piece of information in the database to help identify the road you are on, turning into, turning off or whatever. But today was a masterpiece. This particular road was identified as a street – St. Because there was no name the additional piece of information that was available (a weak bridge) was a appended to the St. Our lovely satnav then spent a few joyous minutes advising us that we were about to join, were driving along, were about to leave Saint Weight Limit.

We almost turned around when possible to hear it all over again.