We’re All Going to Die: Uncontrolled Innovation

Image result for samsung galaxy note 7 exploding

Samsung and federal regulators are strongly urging owners of the Galaxy Note 7 to turn their device off and immediately return it to their carrier. This is essentially the same message delivered to Samsung Galaxy Note 7 owners two weeks ago when issues with the devices were first noticed. Whether an original Galaxy Note 7 or a replacement Galaxy Note 7 these devices must be returned in order to ensure the safety of yourself, your family as well as anyone who may be around you. They explode. Even when turned off, they explode.

When Galaxy Note 7 users initially began having problems with their device, only one month after Samsung released the phone to consumers, production was temporarily halted and a recall was issued on 2.5 million of the devices. The company declared the issue to be faulty batteries from a specific supplier. Except the replacement phones  exploded, even though they contained batteries from a different supplier. Now the devices have been placed at the center of a house fire and a Jeep fire. One device exploded in the hands of a young child while another blew up in someone’s pants. Samsung has received at least 92 reports of Note 7 batteries overheating in the United States, with 26 reports of burns and 55 reports of property damage. And several of the devices have started smoking mid-flight causing the FAA to issue a notice declaring the use of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 illegal on an aircraft under FAA jurisdiction.

Now Samsung has officially abandoned its flagship phone, permanently halting production. All major carriers had already stopped Galaxy Note 7 sales. Samsung stock fell 8 percent after the company asked its global partners to stop sales and exchanges of its exploding Galaxy Note 7, around $18 billion in losses. This issue has turned into a public relations nightmare for Samsung. It has raised questions about the future of the Note franchise, Samsung’s future in the smartphone market and the future of the company itself. Will customers will willing to return to Samsung? Some analysts have estimated that the recall, product stoppage and loss of customer confidence may cost the company up to $2 billion.

Image result for samsung note 7 explosion

Why couldn’t Samsung fix the problem during the initial recall and why have they determined the best course of action is to cease production on the phone altogether? Samsung has no idea why the Galaxy Note 7’s are exploding. According to the New York Times,

“When several Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones spontaneously exploded in August, the South Korean company went into overdrive. It urged hundreds of employees to quickly diagnose the problem.

“None were able to get a phone to explode. Samsung’s engineers, on a tight deadline, initially concluded the defect was caused by faulty batteries from one of the company’s suppliers. Samsung, which announced a recall of the Note 7 devices in September, decided to continue shipping new Galaxy Note 7s containing batteries from a different supplier.

“The solution failed. Reports soon surfaced that some of the replacement devices were blowing up too. Company engineers went back to the drawing board, according to a person briefed on the test process who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the internal workings were confidential. As of this week, Samsung’s testers were still unable to reproduce the explosions…

“Internally, Samsung’s corporate culture may also have compounded any issues. Two former Samsung employees, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from the company, described the workplace as militaristic, with a top-down approach where orders came from people high above who did not necessarily understand how product technologies actually worked.

“On Sept. 2, Samsung decided to recall 2.5 million Note 7s with SDI batteries…Both Samsung and the regulatory agency decided that batteries from another supplier, ATL, did not have the same defects.

“And so Samsung continued to ship Note 7s with ATL batteries, offering them as replacement phones. That decision backfired.

“‘It was too quick to blame the batteries; I think there was nothing wrong with them or that they were not the main problem,’ said Park Chul-wan, former director of the Center for Advanced Batteries at the Korea Electronics Technology Institute, who said he reviewed the regulatory agency’s documents.

“It did not help that the hundreds of Samsung testers trying to pinpoint the problem could not easily communicate with one another: Fearing lawsuits and subpoenas, Samsung told employees involved in the testing to keep communications about the tests offline — meaning no emails were allowed, according to the person briefed on the process.

“Mr. Park said he had talked with some Samsung engineers but none seemed to know what happened, nor were they able to replicate the problem. Replication would have been quick and easy if the problem was with the chip board and designs, he said.”

Instead the problem may be much more complicated and metaphysical. As Park Chul-wan told the New York Times:

“‘It was too quick to blame the batteries. I think there was nothing wrong with them or that they were not the main problem. The Note 7 had more features and was more complex than any other phone manufactured. In a race to surpass iPhone, Samsung seems to have packed it with so much innovation it became uncontrollable.'”

Investigators conducting their own investigation into the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 believe that the continuing issues with the device may be due to a new flaw in the ATL batteries, a different problem than had been identified by the company in the Samsung SDI cells. This would call into question the ability of Samsung to effectively control the quality of its technology. The company had already delayed shipment of the devices due to a need to conduct additional product quality testing, possibly connected to issues involving the device’s use of the new USB-C connector.  Additionally, this eventuality may raise the same issue as that identified by Mr. Park.

Samsung simply innovated too much, too quickly. There have long been concerns among scientists and philosophers about the effect of rapid technological innovation on society. New technologies introduce new concerns, new ways things can go wrong. Humans cannot keep up with all the technology they have invented. And technology may eventually be the end of humanity.

And it starts with a phone, and a fire in your pants.

Have a nice day.


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