When will things break? Predictive analytics will soon warn us


Last week the most dreaded words in the English language flashed before me — “check engine.”

That’s how my Friday afternoon commute went: a peaceful drive, then traces of white smoke, clicking noises, warning lights, anxiety and acceptance. My car was dead.

I’m known to be a bit on the frugal (cheap) side. I have a tendency to drive a car till the wheels fall off.  I drove my first car, a sweet Hyundai, for eight years before it literally ignited in flames during a drive down West End.  I replaced that car with a Corolla that I drove for 200,000 miles before it suddenly lost all power and died in the middle of I-40.  My recently deceased vehicle was a practical 2004 Toyota Highlander. Loaded with food-stained seats, no air-conditioning and as many as two hubcaps — I figured I had a few good years left.

When something mission-critical to our work or personal lives breaks, it’s more than an inconvenience. Be it your car, laptop or smartphone, when a machine we depend on suddenly fails it usually translates into emotional stress, lost dollars, lost time, even lost business.

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In my job as a computer tech, the agony of broken electronics is on display everyday. Hard-drive crashes, viruses, blue screens of death — much like a car, it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong, warning light or not.

My drive-it-into-the-ground strategy is based on emotion and economics.  Since I am not much of a car person, my only concern is safe and reliable transportation, budget prices, nothing flashy.  Now that even used cars cost tens of thousands of dollars, I figure I am better off making minor repairs until repair is no longer justifiable.

When it comes to my computer and phone, I am the exact opposite. It’s usually better to replace rather than repair a computer or phone when it stops working. The repair price is usually not worth it.;

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