File Under Obvious: Human Brain Better Than Machines

By london_ken Last edited 141 months ago
File Under Obvious: Human Brain Better Than Machines

The situation in the Middle East has settled down for a minute, terrorist attacks in Britain are 'highly likely' rather than 'imminent', the Premiership season is yet to start, and we're still in August. Must be time for more silly season filler.

Today, Reuters has come up with today's 'No Shit, Sherlock' story telling us that London cabbies are better at getting around London than satellite navigation systems.

We've got experience of a couple of sat-nav systems and much as they're great for getting to unfamiliar places, we defy anyone to claim that their sat-nav can get them through London more quickly than the application of a little bit of local knowledge and common sense. We're constantly ignoring our sat-nav's stupid route when driving through town. As the report says:

A black cab driver will also know that a route at 7 a.m. might be congested an hour later and that longer routes on paper may actually be quicker.

This probably explains why cabbies seemingly think it's pointless installing sat-nav in their cabs, despite their installation being allowed since earlier this year. Bob Oddy, general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers' Association says "take-up has been about 4 or 5 percent, maybe higher for drivers doing the airport runs and those doing jobs in the London suburbs."

Don't know about you, but if we got into a black cab and saw the driver relying on sat-nav, we'd have second thoughts about staying in it. The report, in the interests of balance, we assume, quotes some bloke at Which? magazine sort of fighting the sat-nav corner:

My prediction is yes, they will in the future become so advanced that 'The Knowledge' may become obsolete...

At the moment the devices don't have the sophistication about blocked routes, which short cuts are best etc ... so 'The Knowledge' is still going to have the advantage for the next 10-15 years.

We think 10-15 years might be optimistic. With the myriad roadworks, burst water mains, football matches, tube strikes, gigantic mechanical elephants and other variables affecting the flow London's roads, you've got to have one hell of a sophisticated sat-nav system to cope with all that information. And what happens when everyone's sat-nav systems divert them all the same way?

Photo of 'Lego Robots 2.0 : traffic jam' taken from kuroda's Flickr photostream, under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence

Last Updated 16 August 2006


you forget that sat nav systems usually contain info about blocked roads, congestion etc that cabbies wont necessarily know about... I've been stuck in jams in cabs lots of times where the 'knowledge' has never helped. It seems to me best to combine the two. Besides, if it introduces more competition in the market and drops prices for us users then great! but I doubt that ken will let people without the 'knowledge', but with satnav, become taxi drivers.


Ed, from the research I did on sat-nav systems (for a personal purchase), there was very little choice of system where 'real-time' information was provided and acted upon. Given the number of traffic jams, resurfacing works, &c. that are significant enough to double someone's journey time but aren't significant enough to be reported to the relevant update services, I doubt that the current crop of systems are up to the job in any case. (If any shop/manufacturer wants to send us a congestion reporting sat-nav system for review, though, I'm willing to be proved wrong.)

If we are to get the holy grail of roads being used to maximum efficiency, we'll need every single car on the road to be hooked up to some gigantic system clever enough to work out in real time where the snarl ups are happening and to send diversionary routes to cars to avoid roads where congestion is building. Oh, and we need people to act upon those instructions.


One last point before anyone gets on their green high horses, you should, of course, consider less-polluting modes of transport before resorting to the car: shank's pony, cycling, the tube, &c.