IT’s a good servant but a bad master

My Wednesday was a long day but a good one.

I made it into Chesham for work despite the snow. I’d been able to check my chosen route online first, and got to work on time. A busy day sorting out customer’s software problems. Then straight to the Islington Lib Dem party executive where among other things we discussed the latest in web-based campaigning.

(Last time I posted that I had the party Exec in my Facebook status, I got a rush of condolence messages from other candidates! I’m incredibly lucky that I have a large and upbeat team and our meetings always get things done.)

We were meeting in Highbury Hill for a change, so my St Peter’s neighbour David and I were even able to hop on the train from Drayton Park to Essex Road: virtually door to door home. So quite a satisfying day and much of it made not only better but possible by automation.

But then disaster: I got in to catch up with Rich watching the Merseyside derby. Nil all, and well into extra time. Then suddenly ITV cuts to the ads, and back, and we find we’d missed the only goal of the night. One very grumpy Richard. So I’m glad to see that Michael Grade has apologised promptly.

It seems the problem was caused by an automated system for broadcasting adverts; it is designed to work with scheduled programmes, but not live events – like football matches going into extra time. There was no human in the room; so millions of viewers, including scorer Dan Gosling’s mum, missed out.

My day job is all about the need for an intelligent human interaction to control artificial intelligence. It’s made me a critical friend of technology, understanding its limitations as much as its benefits. Unlike code, real live people don’t always act in a pattern, don’t fit into boxes and are constant exceptions to our own and other people’s rules.

That’s why I’m so sceptical about a national identity database. More and more chances for the computer says no to mess up people’s lives.

Using IT to implement our decisions is liberating; relying on it to take decisions for us is daft – and dangerous.


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