Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tech Failures

I am constantly reminded of the failure of technology to change my world for the better. More than twenty years ago, it was obvious to me that digital technology would eliminate the need for paper documents revolutionizing business, industry, and government. That just hasn’t happened. Instead, people use computers to generate even more paper, now with un-readably small print. For the most part, business hasn’t yet fully embraced the paperless database driven virtual organization. We still build big offices full of desks and huge libraries to hold paper books. American industry has moved offshore instead of automating. Our government is purposely not digital, organized, or accountable for the $ Trillions it collects and spends each year. If taxpayers actually knew where it all went they wouldn’t believe it or accept it. This tech failure is to keep us blissfully ignorant.

I’m not really surprised. I could see the resistance to digital accountability long ago. I watched the Marine Corps, long known for it’s failure to account for equipment and supplies, repeatedly fail to implement even the most basic digital inventory system and whenever it appeared that it would, the system was replaced with yet another, incompatible system that could not read or use any information previously collected. It quickly became apparent to me that this was purposeful sabotage from above in the chain of command. The war in Iraq is the latest excuse to bypass inventory control (Reserve units leave their equipment when they rotate out) to hide massive losses of equipment and supplies.

The IRS is a similar story. By now they should have everyone’s income tracked electronically and taxes calculated automatically. They could even hire it done by the folks who make tax software. The IRS has spent $Billions on computers yet still fails to keep the most basic records that might hold EVERYONE accountable. Even the FBI is purposely saddled with outdated technology and procedures insuring wiggle room for white-collar criminals and govt. cheaters. Immigration and Naturalization is a joke. It has never been funded to do it’s job and has no accurate data on tens of millions of immigrants it has processed.

Abuse of Technology
Institutionalized government inefficiency is accepted. I remember one particular lady who worked in the Federal Building for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a low paying job. While each department had computers with immediate access to several computer databases and good network connectivity, her job was to print out daily reports and distribute them. A nice person but not capable of holding a real job, she was frequently several days behind in printing her reports and distributing them. It took two full cases of paper to print the report (20 reams) for all departments and the collated results filled a large stainless steel cart she pushed around all day. Most offices dumped the outdated report in the trash (for the shredder) as soon as she left, but nobody was willing to change her job description or alter her daily routine. The massive Xerox line printer we (a private contractor) managed was always on the blink and service calls cost $175 an hour. We “supplemented it” with two high-end HP laser printers that were far cheaper to operate and more reliable. She printed over 1 million pages on them in just the few months I watched this abuse of technology and trees. I often wonder if she and thousands of other government welfare workers are still at it a decade later. Then I remember the Department of Homeland Security…FEMA.

Government has not gotten more efficient, more economical, or smaller in spite of technology. That would defeat one of the primary roles of government, giving dignity to and assuring survival of the hopelessly inept. It would be far cheaper to send all these people home and just pay them to stay there. Let them Tele-commute and save Billions on office buildings, water coolers, and govt. parking lots. If they goof off working from home, so difference.

When I go to a pharmacy or watch a doctor of any kind, I’m appalled at the failure to utilize a database of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment to validate what the professional may or may not already know and prescribe. Consider the lengthy, locally designed paper forms we repeatedly fill out but nobody reads. This constitutes gross negligence and medical malpractice. It cannot be tolerated in the 21st Century when 47 million Americans can’t afford even basic health care. America’s health care system is purposely broken by the greedy doctors union (AMA), artificially difficult and limited doctor training procedures, drug companies and insurance companies who profit from our grossly expensive medical system unlike any other in the world. Too many vested interests prevent improvement.

Education as well has failed to utilize our vast global communications network to bring the best teachers and information to the masses. While we have more knowledge at our fingertips than any generation in history, our kids are dumb as stumps. Only with great institutional rigidity and effort can teaching and learning remain the Byzantine manual process it is today. Soon, world governments will implement digital programmed instruction that can educate billions in the Third World, but America won’t participate. We continue to fall further behind.

Designed to Fail
I could go on about our machines from autos to washing machines that are designed to make maintenance difficult, repair nearly impossible and failure inevitable. Why haven’t they yet incorporated air conditioning components into the modern auto engine or placed the oil filter where it can be easily reached? These basic items remain Rube Goldberg add-ons or afterthoughts to every new design. GM could use a computer that would design the ultimate car but they won’t because a computer would never come up with the purposely-fragile crap we accept from all automakers. Sure Toyota and others are a bit more reliable, but they still operate from the same basic industry premise. “Make it wear out and break so we can continue to build and sell new ones.” Don’t accept the premise of the computer industry, “better, faster, cheaper will insure a market for future computers.” Imagine what the auto industry could really do with today’s technology.

Technology hasn’t failed. It continues to evolve. People have insured the application of technology fails when such failure furthers other human objectives.


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