How Usain Bolt was caught at intersection of tech and human error

The Jamaican Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter had an encounter this week with recent technology. The outcome was probably not what he was expecting.

Reuters
Usain Bolt of Jamaica is hit by a cameraman on a Segway as he celebrates after winning the men's 200 meter final at the 15th IAAF World Championships at the National Stadium in Beijing, August 27, 2015.

In the right hands, technology can inspire confidence, build excitement, defuse racial tensions or do just the opposite – it all depends on the capability and judgment of the device’s operator.

“Technology is a queer thing,” comedian Carrie Snow once said. “It brings you great gifts on one hand and stabs you in the back on the other.”

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt feeling the pain of becoming a meme after being swept off his feet by a poorly-piloted Segway; rapper Wiz Kalifa forcibly apprehended by US Customs officers at the airport for refusing to get off his “hover board"; or a drone shot out of the sky by an angry neighbor – these are all examples of human error making technology look bad.

While the Segway is not new technology, it is still finding its feet in different venues, like the World Track and Field Championships in Beijing. On Thursday, Mr. Bolt, the gold medal winner in the 100 meters at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was taken to the ground by a mobile cameraman who lost control of his Segway. The cameraman and a barefoot Bolt ended up in a heap, but neither man was injured.

The incident, captured on Vine, quickly spread across social media platforms, blossoming into a viral meme Friday.

Also this week, rapper Wiz Kalifa railed against what he felt was an infringement of his tech rights after he tested the boundaries of technology and civil liberty by riding an electric scooter, which he called a "hover board," in Los Angeles International Airport and got face planted by security in the process.

“All because I didn't want to ditch the technology everyone will be using in the next 6 months. Do what you want kids,” Mr. Kalifa tweeted.

The board, which is sold under the name “Souja Boards,” isn’t so much a "Back to the Future" hover board per se, as a sort of self-balancing Segway scooter without a handle bar that’s been shrunk to the size of a skateboard.

However, Beau Turner, founder of 757Maker Space in Norfolk, Va., where people pay a monthly fee to use some of the latest technology in a workshop and prototyping center, says in an interview that with great technology comes great responsibility.

In the movie "Back to the Future," hover board rider Marty McFly plays a modern guitar solo that leave the 1950s audience wincing saying, "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet... But your kids are gonna love it."

In Mr. Turner’s estimation, it’s less of a case of waiting for the next generation to catch up to liking the technology, as it is about this one not acting like kids in a candy store.

“Tech is an enabler, but it’s not a replacement for your brain. If you’re not using your brain, you’re going to get into trouble,” Turner cautions. “You can’t always Google something and understand it. It has to be coupled with common sense.”

This is a sentiment as old as the earliest technology of which Henry David Thoreau said in the mid-1800s, "Men have become the tools of their tools." The more modern idea is to not be a tool while operating one.

Turner explains that part of the issues we see in the news concerning newer tech running afoul of the law and our fellow man may stem from the marketing. “People are trying all these different ways to use it [new technology] and find the market.”

“Look at what happened to Wiz,” he says. “There’s some kind of an issue happening there because they don’t know where the new technology fits yet and so they’re trying it out in all these different areas in search of the audience. But at some point your brain has to kick-in. I mean when Wiz is being slammed to the ground, you know that’s [the airport security area’s] not the place and the market.”

Turner says the Periscope app which allows users to live tweet video with a participating audience (like Meerkat) is a positive example of how “people are trying all these different ways to use it and find the market.”

This week, Palm Beach County, Fla., Sheriff Ric Bradshaw used the app to discuss a deputy-involved shooting that occurred in a troubled neighborhood, leaving one suspect in critical condition.

The use of the app and the immediacy of communication it provided is being widely credited as having diffused a potential race-related crisis.

“The Palm Beach Sheriff is a good example of new technology in the hands of someone finding a practical application for public good," Turner says.

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