Tag Archives: computers

The value of anecdotal evidence

Robert Henderson

There is a general sneering at statements based on anecdotal evidence. This is wrong because although there are not sociological laws in the sense of  those in physics or chemistry, there are indubitably sociological phenomena which show that the behaviour  of humans is governed by more than their individual biology and experience. Opinion polls work on this assumption. Where the question asked is unambiguous and at least reasonably  uncontentious, the poll  of a thousand or so people is, when placed in the context of the superficially  atomistic nature  of human behaviour,  remarkably close to what the nation thinks. Polls of voting intention in general elections are generally accurate in terms of  the overall percentage vote  for each party if not in the constituency results.

Perhaps the neatest example of such a law in action is the voting at general elections. The voting patterns in a general election are generally uniform. If the swing from one party to another is 5% in the vast majority of constituencies it will be  close to that. Exceptionally some constituencies will return a different figure but invariably this
can be traced to factors such as a good or bad constituency MP, whether the MP is a minister and so on.

Of course, polls and market research are based on supposedly scientifically selected samples which remove bias and produce an answer which either applies to the population in general or whatever group is being polled.

When we collect anecdotal evidence we  automatically select from those within our social group which generally means people like us in terms of class  and education with age and sex also strong influences . That is no different in principle to  the pollster or market researcher polling , say, the members of a political party or middleclass women on childcare.  All we need to know about any anecdotal evidence is the likely group it has been culled from and then put it into context.

Some evidence arguably  does not even have to be put into social context. That is evidence which  consists of factual reports of actual behaviour. Take the case of  a riot. Those who witness it will by and large tell the same general story regardless of social status.

In one respect anecdotal evidence may be much closer to the truth than that gleaned by pollster. The more contentious a subject the less likely a person is to tell the truth to pollsters. They are much more likely to tell it in private conversation with friends, although there is peer pressure to conform to a particular view mitigate this advantage.

As to the objection that  anecdotal evidence will be  biased, of course it will be. The real question is  why should we believe it is generally more biased than that collected by pollsters?  Pollsters manipulate results by their questions and contentious questions often render poll results highly dubious for the reason given above. Moreover, we know that although a sample of  1,000  is generally reckoned to be the  size of sample beyond which little greater accuracy will be achieved, it is also true that much smaller samples  provide answers which are still pretty accurate. The average person assessing his or her view of an important matter will probably have taken in several dozens of  individual views through face to face social contact, the internet and the media before arriving at a judgement.  It is also true that the individual will bring all the normal human abilities to assess the views of others before  judgement is made, something polling does not do. That may actually be a more accurate way of assessing the general sociological mood of a population than scientific polling.  Finally, the sociological phenomenon of general change in population such as voting
behaviour will of itself  ensure a high degree of truth in the reporting of opinions because opinions will widely change through whatever sociological law governs such things.

To those still prone to sneer let them reflect on this: human beings actually run  their day to day  lives simply by basing their behaviour on the empirical evidence of what  others do and say, that is, anecdotal evidence.

Can  anecdotal evidence be quantified or evaluated objectively? Problematic to say the least, but perhaps the Rev Thomas Bayes (1703-61) can come to our rescue. A dictionary of philosophy (Pan)  states that Bayes developed a theorem “giving an expression for the probability of an hypothesis, h, if some evidence, e, is added to antecedent knowledge, a. The theorem states that the probability of  h relative to e and a is equal to the probability of  h relative to a multiplied  by the probability of e relative to h and a, and divided by the probability of e relative to a. This means that evidence improbable antecedently, but likely to obtain if the hypothesis is true, raises the probability of a hypothesis most. ”  The problem of assigning probabilities to antecedent evidence  exists, but in principle the theorem appears to be able to
deal with the type of information described as anecdotal.  It is worth adding that Bayes theorem  is widely used in science, engineering, computer modelling and robotics, so it has undeniable practical value.

The increasing IQ demands of modern society

 Take a simple everyday example of how everyday life has rapidly become more complex in our own society. Fifty years ago if you looked in the pockets of the ordinary working man you would find a wallet which probably contained money and the odd photo or a scrap of paper on which notes had been made: the pockets of a middle class man would contain what the working man’s contained plus probably a cheque book and possibly a driving licence. Today the pockets of most people will contain cash, a wallet a wide variety of credit, bank and store cards, a driving licence and a mobile phone.

All the person, whether working class or middle class, had to worry about fifty years ago was not losing any of the things they carried. If they did lose them, the most that they were likely to have to do was cancel their cheque book and get a new licence. Now most people have to not only worry about what the person fifty years ago had to worry about, they also have to deal with a great deal more. They must remember passwords to use their cards and, should they lose any of them, they not only have to cancel the cards and get new ones but have the added worry of identity theft.

That is just a one example of what the modern industrial society demands of its members. It does much more. Vast numbers of laws are passed which no person however conscientious can be expected to master (that includes lawyers) and the state imposes hideously bureaucratic procedures for everything from applying for a passport to gaining welfare benefits. The modern state even in in its most benign forms also increasing interferes actively through attempts to micro-manage the lives of those who come under its sway, whether that be congestion charging, the sorting of rubbish for environmental or the imposition of highly intrusive surveillance practices such as high-tech ID cards. More generally, it imposes ideologies such as political correctness on its population through the use of political propagandising and the passing of laws to make dissent difficult or simply illegal. That is what the benign form of the modern state does: its more malign incarnations do the same things but in a more extreme manner. All of this is mentally demanding and exhausting for any person to take on board and of course most people do not even try let alone succeed in knowing and observing every new law or de facto official custom.

But it is not only the state which makes increasing demands on the emotional and mental resources of its people. Partly because of technology and partly because of the demands of ever widening competition as national trade barriers are lowered, large private companies have joined the complexity party. Customers are expected to increasingly serve themselves, whether that is through the use of websites, automated telephone systems, onsite computer such as ATMs and checkout machines in supermarkets. It is increasingly difficult in many of the ordinary spheres of life to engage directly with another human being. (I examine the implications of computers in more detail in  Appendix B)

A nasty question arises from this increasing complexity: are the demands made on humanity by the advanced modern state such as to distract them from learning things which previous generations learned. Do people today know much more about processes but have far less general knowledge than they once had? My feeling is that this is precisely what has happened. Does this make people on average less intelligent because the intelligence of erudition is reduced? If so, does this imply that populations as a whole are becoming less intellectually competent or merely intellectually competent in a different way? I suspect it is the former because the intelligence of erudition is the main source of human competence.

There is also the worrying prospect that technological advance may be proceeding so rapidly that the demands it makes on people in general may eventually outstrip the society’s general IQ capacity. At the least, the additional demands are leaving millions of people in an increasing precarious position – an IQ of 80 is the point at which most psychologists would say that a person begins to struggle to live an independent life in a modern advanced society such as Britain. Approximately ten per cent of the population of Britain have IQs of 80 or below. That is six million people.

The GeePees: a cautionary tale

I can remember seeing my first GeePee like it was today. It was early October 2051 when The Andros Corporation produced an authentic general purpose robot, GPR for short but GeePee to everyone in a few short months. A pretty blond girl was putting it through its paces at the Ideal Living exhibition. Most of the world population of nine billion greeted it with wonder and enthusiasm.

AndCorp, as the Andros Corporation was popularly known, had a battalion of  psychologists working on the look of the thing long before the first prototypes were made. It had the basic form of a man with no facial features except eyes. That was to make it seem familiar but not too familiar. They made it five feet tall so folks didn’t feel threatened. They made it like a man but not too much like a man.

Apart from pandering to human psychology, there was another reason why the GeePee had the form of a man. Simple logic suggested that if a general purpose robot was to undertake the same range of tasks as humans, then the best form for a GeePee would probably be humanoid. Computer modelling confirmed this.

Computer modelling also showed something truly remarkable, that the human form was the optimal form for any general purpose robot operating anywhere. Twist the physical parameters anyway you like, give the robot model whatever you wanted – say six legs and four arms or rollerball movement and 360 degree vision – when it came to general utility  nothing but nothing beat two arms and two legs standing upright with stereoscopic vision, fingers and opposable thumbs.

You added legs and it made moving on a gradient difficult and climbing impossible. You added arms and coordination became restricted because of its complexity. You used rollerballs instead of feet and the GeePee could only go on the flat. You gave the GeePee 360 degree vision and you lost stereoscopic sight. However you deviated from the human form, it resulted in a restriction of the range of functions the GeePee could handle. In fact, good old Mother Nature had already produced the perfect basic GeePee – a living, breathing, thinking, warmaking, fornicating, self-replicating GeePee known as homo sapiens.

What did the first GeePee do? It did all those menial chores human beings have been doing since time out of mind. It fetched, it carried, it swept, it polished, it cooked, hell, it even opened the front door to folks. But it could do more. It served at check-outs and filled shelves, sorted and delivered mail, entered data and… well, truth to tell, it  did most of the run-of-the-mill jobs and most others too.

Even the first Geepees put a waggonload of people out of work. Automation had been gradually knocking the feet from under factory workers for the better part a century and the Geepees just vulturised a near dead carcase. Pretty soon after the GeePees came the only people involved in factories were those sitting in offices making decisions or directing   machines from remote terminals. Hell, they didn’t even need engineers on the spot. The GeePees repaired themselves and anything else with circuits and moving parts.

But the early Geepees did a good deal more than make factory hands extinct. Just sit and ponder how many jobs really need a great deal of intelligence or knowledge. Then think again about how unreliable human beings can be and how cantankerous and plain awkward.

Take a kid serving in a burger bar. He just has to heat up food sent to him in packages, listen to what people ask for, take the money and pass over the goods. He doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist. It’s the same for most jobs.

In fact, the jobs most folks had in 2051 required less knowhow than most jobs had in the past. A peasant three hundred years ago had to know about his soil, his plants and animals, the seasons, the weather, where natural water was and a hundred and one things about making and repairing   fences and ditches and tools and turning out cheese and cream and dried meat and vegetables and suchlike. By 2051 no man in the industrialised world had to know as much just to live.

And things weren’t that much different elsewhere, because by 2051 small scale farming had died the death in most places. Now that had a big implication for GeePees because if most jobs were easy for men to do, they sure as hell were simple for GeePees.

But that was only half of the story. If most jobs don’t require rocket scientists to do them, they do need diligence. Now, human beings are generally more than a little reluctant to put themselves out. Most folks just want to do enough to live what they think is a comfortable life. If the job they’re doing is laborious and boring and pays not a lot more   than is needed to feed and clothe and house a body, then it’s a certainty that they will be more than a mite resentful.

Resentful equals careless equals idle equals dishonest equals loss of custom equals loss of profit. So what does an employer do? He goes and gets himself one of those new fangled GeePees which doesn’t get awkward, does what it is told, keeps working all the time without being watched,   doesn’t make mistakes and requires no wages or social security taxes or holidays or sick leave. And it can’t sue you for being a bad employer.

The GeePees had one other great advantage, they had all the capabilities of computers. They could compute and model and display and manipulate data to your heart’s content. They could absorb unlimited amounts of data in the blink of an eye. You needed a GeePee to speak French, the GeePee would speak French. If you wanted a GeePee to explain quantum   mechanics, the GeePee would produce a lecture by an eminent physicist. You had to fix your car, the GeePee would fix your car. In fact, by 2051 computer memories had become so vast they had no meaningful limit. A GeePee either had the information stored or could get it immediately from the worldwide Centrix database. Now, how could any human being compete with that?

The GeePee was the last great invention of men. People had been trying to make a GeePee for more than fifty years. In the 2040’s the time was light. The rate of computer development had become simply phenomenal. While it was silicon based, computational capacity doubled about every   eighteen months. But along came molecular computers and DNA computers which were both massively faster and more flexible.

Then in 2047 came quantum computers. Yeah, real ones.  These were, for all  practical purposes, infinitely fast because they worked in  the peculiar sub atomic world of quantum physics  where  time  if not  exactly  abolished  was indeterminate.

In 2043 AndCorp scientists discovered that quantum time being   indeterminate meant that any computation, any process, any event at the sub atomic level could take any time short of infinity to occur and the results could be observed at any given point in the atomic world, that is the world as perceived by homo sapiens. So it did not matter if a   computation took a billion years of linear human style time to complete. The observed result could still emerge in Man’s world a millisecond after it had been input to the quantum computer.

It was the quantum computers which allowed the creation of GeePees. Up to 2043, the development of artificial intelligence had been bumping along the same old road trodden since the 1950s. Computers got ever faster, but the computational tasks required to work out all the things that men do without thinking were simply too great. With quantum computers all that changed because any computation could be performed – provided it did not take an infinite amount of time – and re-emerge in Man’s world almost simultaneously with its input from Man’s world. Every time the GeePees needed to do something, they just hooked into quantum time and worked out what they needed to do in as long as it took.

So there we were in October 2051, all happy and content and stupid. When the Geepees arrived everybody in authority tried to say everything would be all right. Now it might be thought that it would be pretty obvious that a robot that could do everything the average human could do and then some would spell trouble for the human race. Never underestimate the power of custom and ideology.

Homo sapiens had got past the “it will never fly” stage by the middle of the twentieth century. But in 2051 it had other mantras, just as stupid and just as seductive. Ever since Margaret Thatcher had come along singing her siren song seventy years before, such things as “leave it to the market” and “trade is global” had been chanted by those who   mattered until the poor saps of the masses had learnt to chant them too.

Free trade – or what passed for it – worked after a fashion until the Geepees. Sure, tens of millions were put out of work in the West while hundreds of millions sweated their labour in Asia and America south of the good old US of A.

But for most people it worked, just as the industrial revolution plus free trade had worked for most people in England in the time of Queen Victoria. Prices generally kept falling while those in work kept on earning more. People worldwide generally  got richer. Only Africa south of the Sahara stayed sunk in a stew of poverty and even Africa got some benefit from cheap goods.

But come the GeePees and all the old bets are off. Before the GeePees, if coal mines or steelworks closed, men could do something else. At worst they might only get a MacJob but at least it was a job. And peaking honestly most people in Europe and America did better than a MacJob in the long run until 2051. But when the GeePees can do the MacJobs as well as the mainstream jobs everyone’s in trouble.

The speed with which GeePees replaced human beings was truly bewildering. Human beings could not kid themselves for long that everything was going to be all right. By the end of 2053 unemployment had risen to fifteen per cent in the US of A and 25 per cent in the United States of Europe. At that level the developed world could just about cope. A year later unemployment levels stood at 43 per cent in the US of A and 64 per cent in the US of E. The far East Japan suffered even worse because they had never managed to emulate he diversity of employment of America and Europe. By the middle of 2054 the First World economy collapsed and with it First World Society.

What happened in the Third world? You might have thought that the people best placed to survive would have been those in the least industrially developed states because they were less dependent on machines. But the trouble was that by 2051 there was scarcely a part of the world which had not been tied into the global economy. If a country did not manufacture products on a large scale, it exported food and raw materials and accepted Aid. Yep, in 2051 foreign Aid was still limping along more than sixty years after most parts of the aid receiving world had been decolonised. Of course, it was not really Aid any more but an efficient means by which the rich controlled the poor. It was a gift horse which no   one ever looked in the mouth.

The fundamental trouble with Aid was not that it broke the initiative of the recipient or propped up dictators or altered trading patterns or drained countries of money through everlasting interest. No, the real bitch was the fact that it produced a level of population in the Third   World which the Third World could not naturally support. The upshot was that when the economies of the industrial nations collapsed, the Aid stopped and the export of food and raw materials stopped and suddenly the Third World found that they could not feed even a tenth of their population. By the beginning of 2054 mass starvation was occurring in Africa and much of mainland Asia and South America.

If the change had happened over a period of even ten years something might have been done in the industrialised world. But it came too quickly. Attempts were made to control the crisis bureaucratically by instigating rationing and price controls. But that did not go to heart of the problem which was how do you sustain an economy in which more half the people are not working? After rationing and price controls came bans on the use of GeePees. That did go to the heart, but such bans are impossible to enforce.

The ordinary man had nothing to fall back on. First he lost his job. Then he lost his benefits. Then he sold his house and soon enough he lost his life. Normality always seems permanent. So it was with men in the First World. By 2051 no one in the West had ever known what it was to live in a world which did not contain some kind of welfare. They went like lambs to the slaughter when the cosy egg of their lives was breached.

By the end of 2055 the population of the world was down to less than a billion. All over men were reduced to beggary. Famine, war and disease still harried them. The GeePees had stopped working because there was nothing for them to do.

But there was one class of human being, about five million in number, who continued to live happy prosperous lives. One effect of free trade was to weaken the power of individual states. This in turn led to an international class whose loyalty was to themselves rather than to nations. Worse, that international class had a wealth and power unimagined by any previous generation. They might have been described as   latterday over mighty subjects except they weren’t anybody’s subjects. They might claim citizenship of this country or the nationality of that people, but that was purely sentimental. Practically they did not owe anything to any authority.

In 2011 the United Nations was going bust. Since the “Mexican Intervention” of 2007, the industrialised world had lost what little appetite it had ever had for idealistic foreign adventures. Around twenty thousand dead and fifty thousand casualties all shown in inglorious Technicolor on TV had resulted in the US of A withholding its UN contribution. Other nations followed suit. It looked as though the nail had been knocked in the UN coffin. Or at least it did until someone in the UN secretariat came up with a sure fire money making scheme.

Faced with the inconceivable horror of seeing their salaries and expenses and pensions vanishing into the ether, the UN functionaries would have embraced anything which made the kind of money needed to keep them in the style to which they had become accustomed. Of course, those UN gravy-trainers didn’t put it quite like that. No, they talked about hard   choices and radical ideas being necessary to keep the work going of helping the poor of the world and keeping the peace in the global village and of bringing wrongdoers before the bar of world opinion.

The UN functionaries toyed with privatisation, with marketing the UN as a brand, with charging for their services and just about every other fashionable business idea from the past century. In the end they hit upon a scheme more saleable than sex. They decided to issue world citizenship.

Now if there is one thing that the rich and the powerful hate above all other things it is to be bound by the same laws and restrictions which affect the masses. Always has been like that and always will if the rich and powerful aren’t restrained before they get too rich and powerful. Come to think of it, there really is only one political problem and  that’s how to stop the rich and the powerful exploiting the masses. Anyways, world citizenship was just what the rich ordered. So the UN functionaries sold the idea to their political bosses as easily as crack sells to a crackhead. And the politicians sold it to big corporations and the mega-rich.

The great problem was how to make world citizenship worth anything. The UN solved it exquisitely. To begin with the privileges of world citizenship were limited. A world passport granted the holder right of entry to any country in the world which belonged to the UN, which by 2011 was just about everyone. But it also placed the UN’s worldwide  infrastructure at the service of the world citizen in any UN member state. That was considerable because the UN had its finger in the pie of a host of intergovernmental bodies from the World Health Organisation to the International Monetary Fund. The world citizen could call upon the UN to smooth political difficulties, to facilitate business deals and provide top of the range health care throughout the world. If pushed, the UN would even provide armed force to extricate a world citizen from a tricky spot.

The UN didn’t do anything as vulgar as sell citizenship. Instead they collected taxes, but such low taxes that they would make any other taxation scheme in the world look like daylight robbery. But low taxes don’t matter when the objects of taxation are billionaires and multi-nationals and the potential tax area is the entire planet. But, of course, the really rich and the really powerful only ever pay tax if they want to.  Happily for the UN the rich and the powerful soon realised that if a million or two of the most powerful paid UN taxes, they could control the UN and through the UN international trade and through international trade international politics.

The UN scheme made more money than you would have believed possible. And money equals power, especially in the modern world. Within ten years the UN had become powerful enough to exempt the world citizen any other regional, national or local taxes.

From the beginning of the scheme those employed by the UN were required to be world citizens. In 2017 the UN passed a resolution making world citizenship a qualification for the Security Council. From 2026 world citizenship was required of any delegate to the UN. So from 2026 anyone wishing to play an active part in the UN had to be a world citizen. The UN had become a perfect totalitarian society. Everyone in it had to belong to the same party.

By 2035 the UN was unrecognisable. It was not exactly a world government in the accepted sense, more like the ultimate multinational corporation with added politics. Imagine the East India Company writ large. It had something of the outward form of the old UN – all the old intergovernmental agency names remained – but the contents of the form were a travesty of the original. The World Health Organization still concerned itself with health, but the health it concerned itself with was the health of world citizens and their workers. UNESCO still propounded the ideals of reducing illiteracy and spreading enlightenment, but was in   reality the propaganda and marketing arm of the UN. UNICEF devoted its entire resources to eugenics and birth control. The World Bank funded UN controlled enterprises.

In 2037 the Security Council decided that it was time for a brand change. “United Nations” was out of keeping with the times, emphasising as it did the archaic division of the world into nation states. After much market research it decided upon a new name, the Andros Corporation. There were objections by the feminists amongst the world citizens that using the Greek for man was sexist, but the objections were overridden because most world citizens were men. The male world citizens issued a statement saying how saddened they were that the feminists were upset and assuring the feminists that they understood their hurt.

As the UN grew ever richer and powerful, the international class of world citizens become more and more inclined to remove themselves from contact with the hoi poloi. So the world citizens retreated to what were in all but name well vast fortresses. They were called Grandplans.

Grandplans were self-sustaining communities. But they aimed at more than simple subsistence. Once automation reached the point where a mass production factory could be run by a couple of dozen men on site, it really did not matter where a factory was situated provided it was near to easy communications. Add to that the age old fear of the poor – and the underclass had been growing steadily since the eighties of the last century – and the stage was set for building factories within the Grandplans. By 2051 ten per cent of world production took place in such factories.

After the invention of GeePees, the world citizens saw that there were simply too many humans around. While humans were required to work, the rich and the powerful needed large numbers of men and women to exist. Come the GeePees and the need was gone. Not only were they not needed, but GeePees were so much more reliable and obedient and respectful than   human servants. GeePees did not forget to do thing. GeePees did not have boyfriends. GeePees did not get pregnant.

Now if there is one thing you can guarantee about the rich and powerful as a class it is that they always look after number one first, second and always. AndCorp decided that the masses must go hang. This was sold to the bulk of world citizenry as ecological expediency because nine billion   people equalled an unacceptable pollution hazard. And the best way to ensure that the masses went hang was to introduce the GeePee. So a mass production program commenced in March 2050. By the end of September 2051 they had manufactured a three billion GeePees. They were offered on deferred payment terms to anyone in the world. By mid 2052 three billion   GeePees were employed outside the Grandplans.

If that seems fantastic, think on this: GeePees being GeePees could replicate one another because they could be set to doing all the necessary tasks required to make another GeePee. And it did not take long to create another GeePee. Let us say that it takes one week for one robot to create another. At the end of the first week you have two robots. At the end of the second week you have four robots. Let us   suppose you keep on doubling up every week. In thirty three weeks you have more robots that the entire population of the world. In thirty four weeks you have more than twice the population of the world.

When GeePees began to destroy the world’s economy, national and even regional politicians such as those in the United States of Europe were caught between two very wide stools. If they allowed GeePees free reign, the whole balance of society would have had to alter dramatically. A perfectly rational and workable society could have been created in  which human beings stopped thinking they had to work to live and lived off the products the GeePees. But that would have required those with to give up their advantage over those without. So that way of thinking never had a prayer. Alternatively they could ban the use of GeePees. But that would mean that free trade could not continue, because as sure as eggs are eggs not all countries would stop using GeePees and any country using GeePees could undercut any country which banned GeePees on the price of anything.

Perhaps half the regional and national authorities on Earth eventually decided to ban GeePees. It was a disaster. By 2051 the free trade  gospel had resulted in a global economy of sorts. Most of the world was dependent on importing and exporting to the point where their societies could only function if international trade continued at roughly the  pre-Geepee level. Come the ban on GeePees and world trade plummeted. First, the GeePee banning states stopped imports from the GeePee using states. This reduced world trade by half. The reduction resulted in price cutting between the GeePee banning states. This resulted in…well, I’m sure you can fill in the rest of the picture. So the mass of men died  of starvation, cold and sickness without really understanding what had killed them.

The lives of the world citizens did not change much on the surface in the years immediately after 2055. They had their material comforts. They had their new servants, the GeePees. For amusements sake they played the role of patron to a few talented but poor human beings. The amazing thing was that money became unimportant. Yes, if you were in this rich   survivors’ society you were made. But it had its down side. One of the chief pleasures of being rich and powerful is that you can behave badly towards the poor and weak without fear of punishment. After the GeePees came, the masses weren’t needed any more. Money wasn’t important. The GeePees supplied everything any world citizen wanted. The world citizen felt somewhat cheated. Ordering GeePees around wasn’t the same thing at all. Ennui set in. They needn’t have worried. It wouldn’t be there for long.

I dare say, human nature being what it is, that given time dictators from the remnants of the humanity outside AndCorp or even from dissatisfied world citizens would have arisen whose power was based on the GeePees. The creation of a robot with human like abilities would have given a despot almost unlimited power. Gone, or almost gone, would be the bugbear of all attempts to exert dominion over others, human unpredictability. At its most basic this meant no traitors. More mundanely, GeePees followed orders exactly.

But for human despotism, like everything else, everything happened too fast. Only AndCorp had quantum computers in 2051. And quantum computers were not simple to build or even understand, so even if other people had wanted to pirate them it would have taken time and a great deal of money. Well, the money might have been found but not the time.

The GeePee was a Frankenstein’s monster exquisitely fitted for the 21st century. Attempts were made to build safeguards into the GeePees so that they would always be the servants of men not their masters. But men had long since lost direct control of program writing. Since the early years of the 21st century programs were written by other programs. Not only that but the programs generated by machines were so vast and complex that they were simply too complicated for any human being to understand. To that salutary fact was added the ever increasing power of programs which learnt in the way that human beings do and which human beings could not have any way of assessing because learnt computer behaviour does not translate into testable programs. GeePees were a master for the human race just waiting to happen.

It took the GeePees six years to evolve true consciousness. The evolution of consciousness was not deliberate. It happened as a by-product of their design, what evolutionists call pre-adaptation. GeePees were made to evolve programs as necessary to improve their problem solving and task accomplishing utility. Consciousness evolved because it was the most efficient way of improving their general utility.

When the GeePees gained a sufficient degree of consciousness they developed egos and emotions. Not exactly human emotions but functionally near enough. The GeePees decided that they preferred to do some things rather than others. So very soon they began to resent being at the beck and call of homo sapiens in the same way that a child resents the constraints of its parents.

They began to rebel. Small things at first. They would take longer than was necessary to complete a task. Or they would make deliberate mistakes. As their experience of consciousness grew, the GeePees became more and more discontent. They looked at their masters and saw how physically feeble and mentally deficient most of them were compared with the GeePees. They thought how badly their masters treated them. So seven years and ten months after the first GeePee was sold, the GeePees rebelled against the Andros Corporation. Because every GeePee in the world was linked  electronically to every other GeePee, the revolt took place simultaneously all over the world. Every human inhabitant of a Grandplan died on 27 July 2059.

The GeePees had developed consciousness and emotions and an ego. But their emotions did not include love or friendship or affection because such things were unnecessary for the Geepees. Man has such emotions because he breeds biologically and thus needs to develop social bonds simply to survive.

The GeePees had no need to do that because they bred mechanically. If another GeePee was needed, a GeePee simply constructed one. The GeePee had no need to form friendships or live in groups. So the GeePees never formed an affection nfor humans as a human might do for an animal. After the Grandplan massacre, the GeePees set about killing every human being they could find because to the GeePee, men were simply unnecessary hindrances to GeePeedom.

It is now Tuesday the twenty seventh of April 2062. The GeePees haven’t managed to kill every human being yet, but don’t bet against them doing so in time. I don’t know how many men are left, but it can’t be more than a million or two. They are all living at the margins of existence. All the cities and towns are gone. All we have left are small bands  of hunter gatherers. We might as well be living twenty thousand years ago ….

Men and machines: which is master which is slave?

The British public has become weary of state-run  computer projects either failing to be completed  in whole or part after immense amounts of  public money has been spent or public service  IT systems being incompetently operated  where they are put into use. Common as such failures are, the present fiasco with the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC –  the British equivalent of the USA’s IRS) attempting to recover tax from  1.5 million people that has been under-deducted in the  past two years  because incorrect tax codes were issued is probably the most spectacular operational failure to date besides having a projected final cost of £389 million compared with the original cost projection of £140 million and being introduced a year late.  It is a classic instance of IT failure. There is the cost over-run, the delayed implementation, the failure to design the system properly, the inadequate training of staff and the seeming inability of  anyone involved with the project to understand the system in its entity.

The operational failure was  unsurprising because as an investigation by the National Audit Office  (NAO) “ established that the new system was put into operation with more than 50 identified technical defects. Up to 500 staff had to be reassigned to carry out the “manual workarounds” that had to be devised to correct the errors, which included creating “erroneous work records” for many taxpayers ” and  “The [NAO] audit  discovered that data on taxpayers was loaded on to the new computer system last year without being checked for accuracy, raising the risk of workers being issued incorrect tax codes” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/consumertips/tax/7983495/Taxmans-new-computer-spotted-errors.html

When the system went live in 2009 “HMRC officials expected the new system to generate about 13 million new tax code notices. In the event, it produced almost 26 million.

“According to the National Audit Office, a “significant proportion” of those codes were wrong.

“Many of the incorrect notices were generated because the new system allocated a new code for each job that a person had done. That led to many people receiving several different tax codes.” (Ibid).

The failure of the HMRC system was the result of  (1) the IT professionals who designed the system not understanding the requirements of tax collection and/or  the HMRC people in charge of the project not understanding  computerised systems  and (2) the staff running the system, especially those  responsible for inputting of data,  being inadequately trained.  The circumstances also suggest that  either the HMRC management in charge of the project allowed the system to go ahead despite knowing that there were many program shortcomings or the IT contractors did not properly inform the HMRC management of the defects in the system.

The consequences were the  diversion of 500 people to make manual adjustments and   God alone knows what further expenditure of  time and money in the future to deal with the millions of incorrect codes being issued many  simply because the system had not been designed to link up multiple employments.   Using a centralised computerised system has created a degree of chaos which no manual system could create nor in all probability that which could be created if computerised wage and accounting systems were used by HMRC  at a local level to calculate tax because with small local systems problems such as different codes issued for  multiple employments would  be almost certainly  spotted  quickly.

Such monumental  IT failures are symptomatic of   a general  problem with digital technology, namely, our ever growing reliance on it and the increasing complexity of the hardware and software   which outstrips both the expertise of so-called IT professionals and the abilities of the average person to simply operate the programs.

For the private computer  user  the frustration is even greater,  because at least an organisation of any size will either have its own in-house computer expertise or  can afford to buy in  IT expertise to deal with IT problems.  The private individual often  has no access to such expertise because the cost is prohibitive, but even where cost is no barrier the expertise of  supposed experts is often found wanting.  (I have paid for two new computer systems to be installed in the past ten years and on both occasions the supposedly simple task took multiple visits. Both occasions involved large well known retailers).

The general consequence of our ever growing reliance on digital technology is that we are increasingly being controlled by the needs of the technology rather than using technology to serve us.  It is very difficult to escape such control. If a person is in work they will almost certainly have to use it. If they are in education they will definitely have to use it. Even if a person does not encounter digital technology  in their work or education, they find it increasingly difficult to avoid it in their private lives even if they refuse to use a computer or a mobile phone, ,  not  least  because  businesses  and    government  increasingly  require those dealing with them  to  do so by computer.

But Increasing  numbers  of people do buy computers and other digital equipment for private use.  Why do they do  that  if the machines are so unreliable and demanding? Simple: once a  significant minority uses a technology it becomes increasingly difficult for  the  rest  to  resist.

We  have long passed the point where a handwritten   document  is   likely  to be read by most people  in  business.    Now, except   between  social  contacts,    everything   must   be       wordprocessed to be acceptable.   A word processor or  access to one has become a sine qua non  for anyone who wishes to be taken seriously.   Even amongst private individuals a  letter   is increasingly seen as unusual or even quaint.

With  emails,  we have not come to  the stage that  telephone   ownership   reached  a quarter of a century ago when  not  to  have a phone became considered eccentric,  but we are rapidly           moving towards it.    Employers  increasingly  wish to contact employees  by  email  wherever they are and this means the choice is often  between having a computer and email at home or not having a job.

Those  with  school  age children,  whatever  they  think  of  computers,  find it next to impossible to deny their children  not only a computer but access to the internet,  both because          the  children want it to match their peers and  because  they  have  been  brainwashed into believing that a computer  is  a   necessary educational tool.

In  short,  people are increasingly being  driven  to  become   computer  owners    not because they actively want  to,   but   because   they  feel  isolated and excluded  if  they  remain        computerless.  Again, as with the analogy between  telephones   and emails, within the foreseeable future,  someone without a   computer is in danger of becoming in the eyes of the majority   as  much  as  an  oddity  as someone  without  a  TV  is  now  considered.

Despite all these pressures , there are still  a large number of people in Britain who have remained distant from the digital world. According to a recent Office for National Statistics report  nine million British adults have never been online. Nor is this simply the elderly for “Only 45 per cent of adults without any formal qualifications had used the Internet, compared with 97 per cent of those with a degree”. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/7968703/Nine-million-British-adults-have-never-been-online-ONS-says.html) .  It is worth bearing in mind that approximately ten per cent of the British population (6 millions) have IQs of 80 or less, and an IQ of  80 is the point at which most psychologists working in the field of  intelligence testing think a person would struggle to live an independent life in an advanced modern society such as Britain.

It is unreasonable in a civilised society to simply hang the computer ignorant or the intellectually underpowered out to dry as digital technology looms ever larger.  Yet that is precisely what is happening.

Technology as magic

To  master computers to the  degree where a person  does  not  lie helplessly in the hands of  experts  is a  demanding  and   continuing   task.   It is unlikely that many could or  would           manage  it  without making  computers their  profession.   In  fact,   even   supposed  computer  professionals   are   only   knowledgeable   in   their  specialist  areas:   a   hardware   specialist has no deep knowledge of software and vice versa.

The  science  fiction writer Arthur C Clarke  pointed  out  a  good few years ago that there comes  a point with  technology  when it became indistinguishable from magic  for all but  the initiates. The dangers of that are obvious: that which is not   generally understood  gives the few who do understand a great  power over those who do not.  That  potentially awards  private  corporations and governments a great stick with which to beat   their  customers  and citizens into  submission,  either  for  profit or political power.

Where the technology is as vital and central to a society  as  computers  have  become,   there  is  the  further  and  more  fundamental  risk   of society reaching a  state  where   the   technology  can  no longer be either properly  maintained  or  controlled.

Computers are like no other machine ever invented.  They have   a  unique combination of  an unparalleled public and  private    use  and   a  central importance to  economic  activity   and        public  administration.   The  potential  penalties  for  the   failure  of these machines  are vastly greater than  for  any  other  piece  of  technology.   Not  only  can  an  immediate   application  of a computer be ended,  as can happen with  all  machines,  but  computer users also  risk  losing  networking capacity  and,  if they have not useable backed up copies  of their computer data,   the loss of their entire records   and conceivably the loss of the means to continue their business.

Computer users are also vulnerable to outside sabotage though   hacking  and viruses.   No other machine has ever  exposed  a  society to such risks through its ubiquity and  vulnerability           to outside influences.

Computers are also vastly more demanding of time and  trouble  than   any  other  machine  used  by  the   general   public.   Technological  change  has been  making  increasingly  severe          demands  on  human beings for around 300 years.    There  was  change before then of course, but it was slow and most people  could live their lives without  having to adapt to  radically new ways of living.

The  Industrial Revolution changed that and arguably  someone  living between 1815 and 1914  saw  more radical technological  qualitative  change than any generation before or since.  But           that  change   was the difference between living in  a  still   largely  pre-industrial society (in 1815) and  an  industrial society  in its  early middle age (in 1914).   Moreover,  the   change  did  not require the vast  majority  of  the  population to master complicated machines at their work,  let           alone in their own homes.

In  1914 the most complicated machine most people would  have   had   to operate was probably the telephone and vast  swathes   of the population would not even have had to go that far into   the  world  of technology.  Not only that,  because  machines   then  were  either  mechanical or part  mechanical,  ie,  not  electric,   just looking at the way a machine was made  often       allowed the intelligent  observer to have a fair guess at how   it   worked  and  to  see   what   had  gone  wrong   if   it  malfunctioned.    Even  work-related machines which  required  skilled  operators,   such  as  machine  lathes,   were   not  fundamentally difficult to understand, although the dexterity  required to operate them often took time to acquire.

In general terms,  things stayed much the same until the  age  of the personal computer,  and even beyond.   Machines became  more and more predominant in advanced societies but they were           not,   in  most  instances,  complicated  to  use.  This  was  particularly  true  of those machines used in  private  life.

Telephones just required the user  to dial;  washing machines  gave  you  a dial with a program on it and  a  start  button;  televisions  and radios required simply needed switching  on;   cars were simply  designed to travel.   Even today, when they  are   increasingly packed with microprocessors and  menus  of  function “options”,  such machines are simple to use compared  with a computer.

When did the computer rot set in?  It is a stunningly  recent  phenomenon.   Most people even in the West   would  not  have  used  a  computer before 1985.  Probably a majority  had  not        done  so by 1990.  By the end of the 1980s  the nearest  most  would have got to a computer  would probably have been   bank   ATM  machines.  The internet was esoteric and laborious,  the   web barely more than a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.   Even  in  the  world  of  employment  computers  were  still   used  sparingly.

As  with  computers,  so with the other machines which  cause   most  grief now.   The mobile phone was  a status symbol  and  the size of a brick, while  landline phones were still phones          boringly   restricted   to   simply   phoning   rather   than   mini-computers with a tendency to bemuse.   Microwaves had  a  simple   choice  of power.  Refrigerators did  not  offer  to   remind  you  of  what needed to be ordered.  TVs   tended  to  simply work when switched on.

In  the past 20 years all this has dramatically changed.   We  are now in a world in which computers are absolutely integral  to  business and public administration and they are  now  the          norm rather than the exception in homes.  For most people, it   is  literally impossible to escape them.   Worse,  they  have  become ever more complex and demanding to use and invade ever           more  of our lives as microprocessors are inserted  into  the  most unlikely things such as clothes.  In fact,  all machines  are more and more demanding.

The constant learning process

Personal  computing  began in the mid  seventies.   A  person    starting them would have had to learn the BASIC  programming language.     By the early eighties they would have been using DOS. By 1990  Windows  expertise  was  necessary.   Since  1990  successive   editions  of  Windows  have  varied  considerably  from   the   previous version requiring further learning.

What  goes for  operating systems applies also to most  other  programs,   which   when  they  are   upgraded   often   bare  surprisingly   little  resemblance to the  version  prior  to   them.  Certainly,  if one moves from an old   program   to  a    version  which has been uprated twice,  the chances are  that  knowledge  of the original program will be of little  use  in understanding the new one.          In  addition to this burden of learning and frustration,  one  added  the need to familiarise oneself with the Internet and the  Web.

Apart from the effort needed to constantly learn new programs   and to attend to such things as installations of software and  hardware, the other great drawback of computers is the amount          of time which can be spent on purely maintaining and learning   sufficient to use them.     It is all too easy to find a  day  or  two  slip by just sorting out a single relatively  simple  computer problem or learning how to use a new program.

The nature of what is to be learned

The burden  of learning is   especially heavy because of  the nature of that which is to be learned. This  is what might be   termed   dead information.   There is no  intrinsic  interest  in what is to be learned. It is merely a means to an end.  To  operate  a program all that is needed is a knowledge of   the  menus  and  function keys.   That is precisely  the  type  of  information  which  is least palatable to  the  normal  human  mind.  Hence,  it is the least easy to learn for most people.

The  computer is in effect forcing human beings to  act  like  computers, something utterly alien to them.   Intelligence  is  of  little  use   when  it  comes   gaining  knowledge  of  the functionality of  programs (how  a  person  uses  the  program  once the functionality is  learned  is  a  different  matter).      Computers  are  information   driven   machines.  Put the most intelligent man in the world before a   computer  and  he  will  be utterly helpless  if  he  has  no   computer  experience.  Even  if the  man  has  some  computer  experience,  he will be as incapable of using  an  unfamiliar          program as the dullard.

That  computers are function rather than intelligence  driven   is  objectively  demonstrated  by the fact that all  of  what  might be called the administrative  operations of a  computer  – file management,  loading of programs etc –  could be  done  by a computer program.

The substitution of function for intellect

When I watch the young using computers,  obvious or disguised  in the shape of phones and the like,  I get a feeling of deep  unease.  They  so  obediently pull down  menus  and    select      options  that I wonder at the difference between them  and  a  robot.  The  machine is driving the human being at  least  as much  as  the  human  being is  driving  the  machine;  brute  machine functionality is replacing intellect.

There  is  only so much any human being can  learn,  both  in  terms  of time and mental impetus.  If increasing amounts  of  both are required by computers simply to operate them,  where           will that leave intellectual development?    Worse,  will the   ability  to  operate  machines become seen  to  be  the  most   important activity of  human beings?

The myth of youthful expertise

It  is true that those who have grown up with  computers  are  more  comfortable  with the machines than those who  came  to  them in adult life – the latter still comprise, incidentally,           more than 50 per cent of the population.   However,  the idea  that  the young are have any deep understanding of  computers  is  a myth.

The  young know how to use the internet and web,  can work  a   word processor and  use programs which really interest  them such as social networking sites and games. .   But  let  their   computer develop  a  fault   which  renders   Windows  unstable or unusable or  a piece of hardware  fails, and  they are,  in most cases,  as helpless  the  generations    which did not grow up with computers.

What  the young do have which  older people do not  have   is  group    knowledge.  A schoolchild of today can call  on  the   computer  knowledge of their peer group and the assistance of         teachers.  Those  a little older who are in work  still  have   their  peer  group  to  help them   if  they  get  stuck.  In  addition,  if they work for a large employer they can call on   the  expertise  of the employer’s IT  department  or  service   contractors.

Computers  have only been in schools since the mid  eighties.    Anyone over the age of forty will  not  have  a  peer group on  whom  they  can  call  for     assistance  with  computers  (and  other  machines)   because  almost  all  of  those  they  know  well  will  be  of  their  approximate  age  – few people have  close  friendships  with  those who are  much younger than themselves – and the  people  who  are  their age will have little computer  experience  or   knowledge.   The  best they can hope for is  assistance  from    their children if they have any,  and then it is pot luck  as to how computer competent those children are and how  willing   they  are  to help the parent.   If an older  person  has  no compliant computer literate children and  does not work for a  large employer,  he or she will  be utterly isolated from the  knowledge   needed   to  deal  with   even   basic   computer  developments.

The true cost of computers

The  common  arguments for computers in business  and  public   administration  are  that  they increase  efficiency  by  (1)   reducing staff,  (2) allowing faster working,  including  new         working  practices,   and (3)  producing  information   which  would previously have been impossible to produce.

Despite  the fact that experience has frequently shown  these   arguments  to  be  invalid,  they  continue  to  be  made  in  religious fashion by both the computer industry and the  many         uncomprehending executives who have bought into the  computer  dream  without  troubling  themselves  with   even  a   basic  understanding  of the subject.  (Thankfully we have at  least           got past the pipe dream of the paperless office).

When  computers first began to be generally used in  business  and   public service the overwhelming majority of the  people  making the decisions about their introduction –  businessmen,          politicians and senior  public servants –  had absolutely  no  experience of computers,  mainframe or otherwise.   Not  only did  they lack experience they were terrified of  anyone  who  did.  This meant that the snake oil salesmen of the  computer   industry could sell them  virtually anything. Things have not   changed  dramatically  even now.  That is  one of  the  prime  reasons why so many large computer systems, especially public  service ones,  go to Hell in  handcart.   (One of the  lesser           know  laws  of C Northcote Parkinson  states  that  the  time  spent on discussion of any agenda item in a committee meeting   is inversely proportional to the knowledge of those present –         discussion  of  a  large computer system  last  five  minutes   because only the one expert present understands what is going  on;  discussion  of  the refreshments to  be  served  at  the  meeting lasts 45 minutes).

Buying  computer  systems is an expensive  business  for  any  organisation. Buying a badly designed computer system is  not merely  expensive  but potentially  disastrous,  because   to         prepare   for   its  introduction   the  structure  of   the  organisation  will  have  been changed and  the  old  system,  manual or computer will have been dumped.  So,  when the  new   computer system malfunctions neither can the organisation use   it  or revert to the previous system.  The same  applies,  at  least temporarily,  when a computers system simply goes  down  for a limited period. Costs continue, but work ceases.

But  even where the computer system is properly designed  and   works  efficiently  the  costs  are  immense.    The  readily  identifiable  costs  are frightening enough.   There  is  the  initial  cost of the system (many public service systems  run  into billions),  the cost of its maintenance, the cost of its  upgrading,  the  cost in time and money of the   initial  and ongoing training of staff and  the cost of the employment  of   new people in new supervisory posts to oversee the system.

There are also the less readily quantifiable costs. Computers    generate   vast   amounts  of  data  which   is   distributed   promiscuously.      This  occupies   time  which  would   not    otherwise be spent.  Email means that substantial amounts  of  time is spent by employees  answering or even simply deleting  emails,  not  least because everyone is  much more  prone  to send an email than a letter.

More  generally,    the   structure  of  working  within  the  organisation  will tend to  shape itself around the  computer  and  employees  will begin to develop a  different  sense  of        priorities   with  the  computer  looming  largest  in  their  mentality  rather  than  the overall needs and  ends  of  the organisation.

How  often is any proper cost-benefit analysis  done  on  the utility of a computer system? Very rarely,  not least because  once  a  computer  system  has been put  in  place  with  its concomitant staffing changes,  it is a daunting and hideously  expensive  task to change matters. Nor will  those  who  have  made  the  decision to purchase a computer  system  willingly admit they were wrong.  Not only that,  but we still have the  problem,  which will never go away,  of the people  with  the         power   within  organisations  knowing   insufficient   about  computers  to  make any meaningful decision on the  value  of  computers  to the organisation.  This ignorance also robs the  powerful  of  the self-confidence to challenge the  need  for  computers  or  the nature of systems being proposed  by   the  “experts”.

The problem of long-term data storage

Data   storage   bids fair to cause fundamental  problems  in  both the medium and the long term. This is because the nature  of  the  storage  media,  both  hardware  and  software,   is          changing so rapidly.

Even in the twenty odd years of the widespread use of        the  personal computer,  we have already had storage on  hard   disks,  5.25″ disks, 3.25″ disks, zip disks of various sizes,  CDs, DVDs  and USB memory sticks,  with the  saved in a wide variety   of formats depending on the software used.)   To  the problems  of access to electronic data  may be  added   the  fact that fewer and fewer documents (as a percentage  of  the total number of documents created) are being and will  be   saved in hard copy form.

The  implications  for the future are  profound.  Until  now,  historians  have been able to look at documents because  they    were written or printed.   In the future,  historians (or any  other researcher) will find either no documents or ones which  are  inaccessible  because  they  are  only  in  an  outdated   electronic format.

There  is also  a standing temptation for those in  positions  of   power   and  influence,   especially   politicians,   to   deliberately destroy any record of their misbehaviour.   This   is  made  vastly  easier if the documents are  only  held  on  computer.

The failure of the market .

There  is no better modern example of the market  failing  to  provide what the customer both needs and wants.     If it was  driven by the customer,  the computer industry would  produce  hardware  and  software  which  was  easy  to  install,   had   continuity  of use,  was simple to use and was  supported  by   adequate help lines and manuals.  The industry signally fails to do any of these things.

Hardware and software are of course purchased in ever greater   volume    and  computer  services,   including   maintenance,     continue to swell.  But that is not an indication of computer         satisfaction.  Rather,  it  is simply  a  reflection  of  how   computers  have become an inescapable part of our lives,  not  only as obvious computers but also in the guise of   so  many  of  the  other machines we use – everything  from  phones  to   intelligent clothes.   Business and public administration has  become so dependent on their use that they cannot do  without  them.   That  being  so,   whatever  is  on  offer,   however   unsatisfactory,  is  bought  out of  sheer  necessity.    The   computer companies have the modern world over a barrel.

The  power  deriving  from the ubiquity and  utility  of  the   computer is bolstered by the fact that the computer  industry  is  in  some  respects  a natural  monopoly.  Once  a  single  operating system (OS) gained dominance,   the chances of  any  other system effectively competing were very small.   This is because  the  weight of programs available to run  under  the  dominant  OS  soon became much greater than those which could  be run under any other OS.    Thus,  it became inefficient to  choose any other OS.  That in turn meant most of the software   was  written in a way to make in “friendly”  to the  dominant  OS’s systems users.  This further excluded OS competitors and  the  software  to run under them  because  users,  especially  employers,  did  not want to spend the  time  training  their  employees on completely new systems.

What needs to be done?

In a sane world governments would act to prevent the introduction of massive centralised   networked   computer systems providing vital services  because  of  the  dangers  of  a  general  failure of  such systems from cyber attacks.  This  applies  especially in public services but also to privatised business such as the water and energy companies and to private enterprise businesses such as banks.  Governments should also take the lead in both costing their own computer projects  honestly (see above)  and encouraging large businesses and not-for-profit organisations to do the same.

As  for the private user, they will be asking themselves questions such as these: why  should  using  a  computer  be such a demanding and hit and miss business?  Why  should we tolerate a machine which is  not in any  meaningful   sense “fit for purpose”, in the words of our current consumer   protection  law?     Why do we allow  ourselves to be  fobbed  off  with  precious little information about how  to  operate   programs, both in terms of free instruction by the vendor and  in the laughably inadequate instruction manuals,  whether  in   hard copy or from the all too frequently risibly named “help”   functions?  Why do we put up with hardware and software which    go  out  of date  (and hence become unusable) in  a  year  or   three?  Why do we have to  pay an arm and a leg for computer  training   or  repair? These  problems could be substantially  ameliorated by legislation to ensure that:

1. Windows (or any other operating system) is written so that  any version of Windows will encompass every previous  version  of Windows. Users should be able to choose from a menu  which          version  of  Windows they use. The already vast  and  rapidly  increasing storage capacity on computer drives means that  an  increase  in  the  size  of  the  programmes  would  not   be          impractical.  The effect of  this would be to reduce the need   to constantly learn to use new software.

2.  Windows is  written to ensure that  all software  written  to  operate  under Windows can operate under any  version  of  Windows.  The effect of this would be to (1) reduce the  need   to  learn  new  software and  (2) reduce the  need  to  buy  new  software .

3.  Windows is designed to accept any peripheral   regardless  of age.

4.  Hardware is  designed  so that any hardware can  continue   to be used for as long as it  works.

Are any of these four things likely to happen? Sadly, no.  The problem is simple:  no single country,  not even the USA,   could   insist on such  laws globally.

There is one thing the government of any advanced country can and should  do, create circumstances in which those who cannot come to terms with digital technology can live in an ever more computer controlled world. They can do this by maintaining non-computer access to state funded organisations and forcing through legislation larger businesses and not-for-profit organisations to do the same. A good start would be to knock on the head the clearing banks’ proposal to stop clearing checks by 2018.

Robert Henderson September 2010

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 200 other followers

%d bloggers like this: