Investigators today shifted and expanded the search zone for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 after recalculating the jet's speed and how much fuel it carried. The shift will give spotter planes from Australia more time in the air to look for floating debris, but has also led to renewed questions about whether the effort is running out of clues to the passengers’ fate.

The hit-and-miss nature of the three-week search has angered families, some of whom believe that Malaysian officials are holding back information, or even covering up evidence. This frustration has also exposed the limits of technology -- in both the aircraft and the search for it -- limits that many people seem to have forgotten in our plugged-in lives.

"There's a common misperception about technology that there's always an app for that," said Janet Vertesi, professor of sociology of science and technology at Princeton University. "It's been fueled by popular culture, that technology is always going to be saving us."

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Vertesi said that the rise of smartphones and their uncanny ability to both locate and connect to anyone, anytime -- combined with unrealistic depictions of fictional super-sleuths on TV programs like CSI -- have lulled us into a sense that tech can do anything.

But reality is quite different.

"Technology is always very local and limited," said Vertesi, who has worked with NASA to study the human teams who control robotic missions to Mars. "It's built to solve particular kinds of problems, but it has limitations. It's unevenly distributed. Not all countries, states or cities have access to the same databases, satellites and computing resources. You are not always working in a world with no constraints."

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The search for Flight 370 has already faced these constraints. Transponders either failed or were turned off, air traffic controllers lost the plane and aviation experts haven't found evidence of hijacking or pilot suicide.

There's also been a lag between the time that satellites spot debris, to when the images made available to aerial search teams, and then how quickly ships can plow through rugged seas to the objects.

Searchers are in a race to find the flight data recorder, or black box, which could hold clues to what happened, including the final two hours of the pilots' conversations. But the battery on this black box only has about 10 days left and a range of three miles underwater.

Locator beacons don't always work, according to Roger Connor, a curator for aeronautics at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and a commercial airline pilot. He likened the belief in GPS transponders to hikers who get lost in the woods with their cellphones.

The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has exposed some of the inadequacies of existing radar systems.iStockPhoto

"People have this sense that I can do this because if I get in trouble, I hit a magic button and someone comes and picks me up," Connor said. "There is a disconnect between our perception of capability and what is actually possible."

The remote search area and rough weather will likely push both humans and technology to the edge, he added.

"This is about the worst place to lose an aircraft. It's not regularly traversed, the seafloor is deep and rugged. The hardware is not designed for that environment, once you get below 10,000 feet you run into limitations."

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As with any big technological disaster, the mystery of Flight 370 will likely push technology in new directions. Already, as Vertesi noted, analysts from the British satellite firm Inmarsat used a new method of analyzing data to project the plane’s flight path.

And Connor said that the aviation industry will be forced to adopt changes; perhaps streaming data instead of recording it or fixing gaps in air traffic radar coverage that still exist in many parts of the world. Maybe new inventions will result.

"This is going to be seen as one of the biggest challenges to the aviation sector in quite a while,” Connor said. "There are going to be a lot of people who will be inspired to come up with creative solutions."

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Vertesi said technology is also political. Big countries with bigger budgets, military know-how have the advantage. The search for MH370 is forcing regional rivals in southeast Asia to work together.

"So many nations that don't have reasons to share data or military resources have banded together and shared technology in an effort to solve this problem," Vertesi said. "That takes time but I have seen a lot of innovation, which is exciting."

Still, both experts say the hunt for MH370 may end up relying more on a bit of luck and calm seas.