My partner and I are leaving on a year long sailing trip this weekend. One of the last things on our shopping list is a spare handheld marine VHF radio. This spare radio will allow us to communicate with other boats if our main radio is incapacitated.

Canadian Tire’s website returned a few entries with the query “VHF Marine Radio” so I headed off to my local store.

Canadian Tire VHF Marine Radio Search

When I arrived however I discovered that none of Canadian Tire’s radios were VHF Marine, they were all Walkie Talkies. This is problematic as Walkie Talkies can not communicate with VHF Marine Radios. Canadian Tire… more like Canadian Liar… amirite?

This may seem like an inconsequential mistake until you consider when these radios are likely to be used. In an emergency on the water; Walkie Talkies are as useless as a knitted life raft. Ideally humans will check their equipment before they use them, however these radios normally come as a pair. It would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security after a successful self radio check.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity - Hanlon’s razor

It was unlikely that Canadian Tire was trying to trick people into floating powerless boats over waterfalls.

Fat Cat Rowing A Boat

It far more likely that users of their website inadvertently trained Canadian Tire’s search algorithms into believing that “VHF Marine Radio” was a synonym for “Walkie Talkie”. A simple mistake for a gullible algorithm. Nowadays machine learning is relatively easy, machine learning useful things is more difficult. We’re likely to see more mistakes like this as algorithms penetrate our lives. I just hope the machines are smarter before they attempt their inevitable coup d’etat.