My test for what is a really good idea is if I find myself thinking why hasn’t someone thought of this before — it’s so obvious. Take the story today of the zapper — a device to prevent dangerous high-speed police car chases by using technology against itself.
There was a time when most people, mainly men, could happily tinker away under the bonnet of their cars: changing spark plugs, adjusting points, fitting air and oil filters etc, or even a new engine if they were really ambitious. Those days have gone. The modern car is so reliant on on-board computers that one look under the hood has you reaching for Yellow Pages to find a garage.
And it can be unnerving. I remember a few years ago, I was driving the family to Chester Zoo along the M56 when a light I’d never noticed on the dashboard before came on and stayed on. Mrs Parrot got out the manual to work out what it meant: it just said something like, “Take your car immediately to the nearest Vauxhall dealer. Do not exceed 50 mph.” And that was it. It may well have said, “Do not be afraid. Be very, very frightened.” Turned out that the computer under the bonnet was having a hissy-fit.
The point being that our cars are so dependent on their computers that if you can knock them out with the zapper, you can immobilise the fleeing villain, joy-rider, whatever simply and safely. Brilliant.