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Over-Reliance on Digital Could Go Pear-Shaped

Yet more examples of our worrying dependence on big computer networks. There were four in the few days following the RBS/Natwest catastrophic failures, with failure of 4GS to fulfill their expensive contract to staff the Olympic Games security one of the top news stories of 2012 to date.

1. The O2 mobile phone network failed without much explanation returning individuals and businesses back into the dark ages. It is likely to cost them billions in compensation and probably more in reputation. The affair was topped off by a typical mealy-mouthed ‘apology’ we have come to expect from highly paid people in charge of these major corporations that seem incapable of organising anything much.

Chief Exec Ronan Dunne said, their focus was ‘on restoring your confidence and trust in O2.’ Yeah, right.

2. In the past year some £4.5 billion of precious taxes have been lost through ‘fraud and error’ at the Department for Work and Pensions. The biggest department in the government’s organisation the DWP is ‘responsible’ if that’s not overstating it, for the biggest budget in Whitehall.

About £3.2 billion was given out in over-payments. The official line is that the level of ‘fraud and error is unacceptably high.’ That’s telling it like it is.

They are also accountable for the biggest waste of public money. The figure is not just a one-off, but is roughly the same as last year, and the year before that stretching back an eye-watering 24 years!

As the benefit system is ‘simplified’ into a leviathan of complexity, things can only get worse and no amount of systems, programs, solutions will get to grips with it. Reliance on technology has doomed it. Man cannot invent the way forward now.

3. As if to prove that, the Government is planning to reform the entire welfare system with a UK Universal Benefit with a gigantic IT project that is £100 million over budget so far and months behind schedule. Plagued with problems, dependent on HM Revenue and Custom’s ability to provide real-time data from its own system (fat chance) the pilot scheme has suffered what are called ‘glitches’.

An all-party group of MPs who investigate taxation matters has ruled that the technology underpinning the new scheme is ‘not sustainable’ and does not ‘guarantee real-time accuracy.’ They have concluded it threatens to throw the whole thing off course. Permanently.

The excuse/apology department has stepped in with a spokesperson brushing criticism aside with a claim that it is ‘on track’ and would ‘pay for itself twice over every year.’ He or she said ‘talk of spiralling costs is hyperbole.’

These are phrases that could return to haunt them all. The great hope is that we are on the dawn of a new era of joined-up benefits system fit for purpose in the modern world.

4. The Criminal Records Bureau processes over a million checks on people seeking to work or volunteer to work with children or vulnerable people every year. There is no avoiding it, though whether it would have stopped Soham schoolgirls’ killer Ian Huntley is debatable.

They say that 99.995% of their checks are accurate, searching about the right people and recording things correctly.

But the fraction of innocents who are incorrectly recorded as having criminal records (204 people, up 19% from the previous year) are citizens deprived of work, charities deprived of volunteers. Not to mention the embarrassment of being falsely labelled a criminal.

They say it is down to ‘a mix up on a computer system’. They say ‘accuracy is a top priority’, when clearly it isn’t. The chief executive still got his bonus. Why should he when there is incompetence.

Why Must Apologies Be So PC?

Never mind about just coming clean, the contemporary instinct from officials, bankers, bureaucrats and others is to shrug off criticism as negative and ‘unhelpful.’ Few acknowledge that what most people feel is that they are incompetent.

It’s that word many of these people don’t seem to like. The politically correct terms are now, ‘a reliability deficit’ or ‘an unpredicted shortfall in competence’ or ‘an inappropriate level of performance relative to the required outcome’. Incompetence.

Or over-reliance on computers that just cannot respond and think like human being sufficiently to replicate us, warts and all.

Steve Nguyen, writing in Workplace Psychology (March 2012) asserted that ‘digital natives’ (younger people born into a digital age) are susceptible to restricting brain influences that certain digital activity creates.

He referred to electronic games and the front lobe in juvenile brains, but the application is that a dependence on computers for everything can quickly become a substitute for normal human activity like interpersonal skills, problem solving, adding and subtracting, timetabling, project management and using pencil and paper to doodle creatively.

He could have gone further and included people in high-power/high-profile jobs who cannot empathise with ordinary people’s frustrations when they cannot access what they are paying for as customers or taxpayers and all they get is some platitude such as ‘your call is important to us…..’

Read On:

Time to Get Sentimental About ‘Real-Time’

Another Week, Another Systems Malfunction

Teenage Brains Are Different: Official!

The Limits of Technology, Knowledge and the Human Brain

Is the Web Bad for Brains?

Have Yourself a Merry Politically-Correct Christmas!

The Communication Paradox

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest (Official) Word

Workplace Psychology, Steve Nguyen, Over-reliance on Computer May Leave You Ill-Suited for High-Trust Jobs, March 2012

Image: SchonVergeben