Thursday, September 16, 2021

Technology is as good as the people using it: Computer technology is just a tool. Its user determines the quality of output

Installing cameras for fighting crime and tax evasion, using computer technology for removing corruption, and implementing EVMs for ensuring transparency of election results are all uses of technology to solve problems. However, "technology is as good as the people using it". Utility of a technology is dependent on the ability and competence of people using it.

Let's see some examples of technology and its tools:

A knife is as good as the person using it. On Eid ul Azha, qurbani by a professional qasai(butcher) vs by a novice reveals that the quality of the cut meat depends more on the person cutting it than the knife that is being use. A good knife in the hand of an expert will do wonders, while in the hand of a bumbling non-professional will destroy the meat. One would spoil the meat the other would make it into a treat worth remembering.

Consider a simple task like putting a nail in the wall with a hammer. An expert will get the nail in with a few strokes of the hammer. A novice would spoil several nails, would also spoil the paint and in fact destroy the wall plaster also.

Similarly, a good carpenter can create a master piece of furniture using the tools which in the hands of a clumsy novice will spoil the wood and will result in an unusable furniture.

Using the same palette of paints and the same brushes, an artist can create a masterpiece of painting, and the same paint and brushes in the hand of a novice can destroy the canvas, painting, paints and even the brushes.

Sandblasting the license plate number of cars is sometimes considered to be a solution for car-jacking. Recently, Kenya which is notorious for street crimes, resorted to sandblasting on cars of Nairobi. Cars not having the numbers sandbasted on window glasses are not given fitness certificate to drive on roads. The pic here was posted in 2021 that wanted Pakistan to use sandblasting on car windows for apprehending car thieves. Little did the person asking us to emulate Nairobi knew that in 1995-1997 we went through an extensive drive to get all the cars on Karachi roads sandblasted with the license plate numbers. It failed predictably because the issue in Pakistan is not being able to identify the license number of car, but the willingness and commitment of the traffic police to apprehend the criminals. The only result was that the sandblasting companies made huge money providing their services in cahoot with the police who were busy extorting money for forcing the drivers to get the sandblasting done. The project was discontinued.
In Pakistan it is the people problem not the technology problem.

Like all of these technologies, computer technology and electronic devices are no different. In the hands of experts they can do wonders. In the hand of novices they can cause wastage and a great debacle as what we saw in the use of RTS in 2018 elections where the untested and unpiloted app failed in its first real life test. RTS was being implemented by people who had no experience of implementations of sophisticated technologies.

The more complex a technology, the more the expertise is required in its implementation. If the users are also unaccustomed to that technology then the complexity increases by several orders of magnitude. The complexity further increases exponentially with the number of different interconnecting subsystems. The complexity of a machine is not directly proportional to the number of its subsystems but is exponentially proportional to the number of subsystems. If each system requires separate manual intervention, then the complexity is still higher. Complexity of a system of interconnected subsystems also increases when different people are using different parts from different parts being used by the same users.

‎Pakistan has been trying to stop tax pilferage and misreporting of factory outputs by installing the cameras since 1990s. There is also SRO notifications in this regard. Has there been appreciable reduction in tax pilferage. None except greasing of the palms of inspectors and giving huge contracts to camera companies.
There is a similar story of safe city cameras of Islamabad and Karachi. There are 2000 cameras in Islamabad. There are several thousands in Karachi too, but when the time comes they are often found to be non-operational, there is no transparency of data.

The problem is not of technology, the problem is not of laws and regulations. But the problem is people management, strategy and processes.

The case of EVMs is a classic case where government thinks that technology is a panacea of all ills of the society. They think that there is rigging in election because of lack of technology. There are so many incentives for rigging. It is a political problem, it is a social problem, it is a human behavior problem. See the detail post in this regard.

EVMs will fail in Pakistan because it is more of a management problem than a technology problem

Technology is as good as the people using it.
Technology is not the solution. Change of behavior of people who use the technology need to change!



 

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