How did VW fool the EPA?
VW engineers realized something is fundamentally going to change regulation.
Most regulation is based on inspection. We have health inspections, building inspections, safety inspections, and of course, pollution inspections – among many others. We should not forget the inspections built into the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
What the VW engineers realized is that all inspections are built on the assumption that systems are static, unchanging, consistent, and stable. In the past this was true. For example, if a bridge is sound today, it is a good bet that it will be sound tomorrow. The VW engineering insight was that today’s systems, controlled by computers, can change in the blink of an eye.
When the system is inspected, it can be non-polluting, but as soon as it drives away, pollution can increase 40x. In the same way, a nuclear refining system in Iran can produce reactor fuel when inspected, but a short time later it could be producing weapons grade material. [Caveat: I don’t know anything about nuclear engineering, nuclear reactors, bombs, or inspections. I am just making up a story on the assumption that the equipment might be computer control and could be quickly reconfigured.]
The replacement of electro-mechanical systems by microprocessors, has lead to the death of transparency.
Before microprocessors, any self-educated and motivated person could understand the control system whether you were looking at an industrial machine (see the Jacquard Loom above), a consumer item like a car or clock, or even something mathematical like a calculator or a meter.
More importantly, before microprocessors change was slow and obvious, and in many cases impossible. The beauty of that Jacquard Loom is that those pattern cards can be changed to weave a different design, but that took time and was easy to see. In a car, the carburetor settings could be changed, but it was a slow manual process. Clocks and pianos could be tuned, but for all practical purposes, they were static.
For these reasons, mechanical devices were transparent. “What you see was what you get.”
Today with microprocessors, not only is the control code invisible, but as VW demonstrated, it can be changed instantaneously. Transparency is Dead!
Aside from the VW hack, what might we expect in the future.
With smart meters, the gas, electric, or water company can adjust the meters to record more than what is delivered. For that matter the same is true of your smart phone. It can easily over count your cellular data usage, and no one would be any smarter.
That is just metering.
As has been suggested by many movies and TV shows, your phone, camera, TV can record and remember what you are doing, saying, and where you are going. No amount a care can prevent this if the control code decides to ignore your settings.
Fundamentally the concept of inspection is dead. Just because a device passes inspection, just because a meter reads correctly, just because your WiFi behaves, none of this guarantees that the test results will hold after the test is complete.
Every time you pump gas, there is an inspection sticker assuring you the pump is accurate. With today’s technology this means nothing, and as time goes on, all inspections will be similarly useless.
We should all thank VW for opening our eyes.