Ng: Banning gadgets in planes

THE news that’s currently creating a lot of buzz and concern is the recent announcement of the United States that airplanes coming from certain Middle Eastern and African countries flying into the United States will soon require passengers to check in their notebook computers and tablets and will not be allowed to carry it to the cabin. The passenger may, however, be allowed to bring cellphones.

A day after, the UK government announced similar bans from direct flights to the UK from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The UK announcement was more particular – all devices bigger than 16 centimeters (about 6.3 inches) will have to be checked in. This would include iPads, iPad Minis, and most notebook computers. The justification is that there has been evidence that some jihadist groups may have developed capabilities of hiding a bomb inside an electronics device.

This is worrying in two aspects. First, of course, is that many of us rely on tablets and notebooks to be productive, and also to while away the time watching videos, playing games and listening music through long hours of plane rides. The second is that when they become strict on certain flights, all flights will be affected.

In the end, terrorists want to gain notoriety by killing innocent people and eventually, all flights can be targeted. So that may mean that eventually, unless there is a better solution, more countries will just outright ban notebooks and other big electronic gadgets.

These kind of restrictions are very difficult for business. The last few months, there have been new bans on transportation of certain types of batteries due to more incidents of cellphones exploding. We have had some imports that are still stuck in foreign ports. The device has been sent to us already without the batteries, but the shipment of the batteries, which is delicate for most airlines, still remains delayed.

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Meanwhile, here’s how tech can mess up some things. Apple iPhones have an artificial intelligent assistant called Siri whom you can talk to. Normally, it has voice recognition, and one of the things it can do is it will call 911 when you ask it to. Now, in terms of programming, Siri also automatically changes it when you are in other countries. For instance, the emergency hotline of UK is 999. So if you are in UK, and you tell it to call 911, it will automatically dial 999 for you.

In India, the hotline is 108. For some reason it became viral in the US that if you instruct Siri to call 108, it will call 911. People are probably fascinated, but those working for the emergency hotline 911 are frustrated, because they have ended up with lots of prank calls, which they warn will tie up emergency lines.

Well, such are the travails of technology.
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