IT should focus on productivity not eliminating people

Earlier this month I took part in the Milton Keynes self-driving car trial, for a forthcoming article for Computer Weekly. Sitting in a car that steers its own wheel was enormous fun. However, it was striking that those I spoke to for the article thought that fully driverless cars on public roads are a long way off. Such technology is generally better-suited to making operators more productive rather than replacing them.

There is something of an obsession within tech for eliminating people completely, whether drivers or customer service staff. But with the latter, where the process has gone a lot further, the result is often frustrated rather than delighted customers, and the same is likely to be true of any process that involves human users – which is most of them. As Izabella Kaminska argues in the FT’s Alphaville blog, among many other drawbacks, properly driverless taxis would quickly end up twice as filthy as night buses at dawn with no-one to supervise them.

I am currently working on Ovum’s annual healthcare IT trends report. The prospects for replacing healthcare professionals with IT look minimal – leaving aside everything else, how can a computer care? But there are lots of ways in which technology can make such professionals more productive. In healthcare and other industries, better productivity would be a more productive focus for IT than eliminating people entirely.

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The north-west’s suburban good food desert

In the first series of The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visited Good Food Guide-recommended restaurants in the north of England. More specifically, they visited restaurants in the rural north of England, avoiding cities.

They needn’t have done. Based on the 2017 edition of the guide, there is no problem finding good places to eat in Manchester and Liverpool – but it is much harder in suburbia, particularly in the hinterland between the two city centres. Continue reading

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The digital divide: paid-for vs page-views

Some readers, particularly those I asked to subscribe, might remember I wrote a series of articles on the state of Britain for a website called Beacon in 2014-15. It was initially set up as a pay-walled multi-writer blog, where you subscribed to one writer and gained access to everyone. I had fun writing for it and made a modest amount of money writing articles I would not have written otherwise.
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From Alan Turing to Clive Sinclair, a Cambridge computing tour

The Register has published my walking tour of Cambridge’s computing history from Alan Turing (King’s College) to Clive Sinclair (6a King’s Parade, just across the street). On the way, it takes in Porgy the bear, EDSAC, Acorn, Elite, Robert Maxwell and a fight in the Baron of Beef. Continue reading

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No Mr Bond, I expect you to fill out the form

Britain’s security and intelligence agencies used not to exist, officially. Now, you can download documents discussing MI5 officers’ failures to fill out electronic forms. On 3 May, someone new to the approval process for accessing bulk personal datasets reported that it was being over-ridden. One imagines he or she was unpopular with colleagues; hats off, nevertheless, for protecting both the privacy of the largely innocent people on those databases and MI5’s reputation. Continue reading

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