Friday, May 27, 2016

Computers and productivity - a net zero?

Today, for Emily and I, has been a not atypical mix of frustrating interactions across government, school and the private sector.

There’s a common thread in all of them. IT systems that don’t work — because they are old, or partly replaced, or one of multiple overlapping systems, or underfunded, or flaky, or not well integrated into workflows … or all of the above.

There’s something about “information technology” that we don’t understand. Something that makes it different from cars and planes and indoor heating and clean water. 

Unlike those things there isn’t a general trend to improvement. Systems get old and decrepit, transitions are very difficult or impossible, efficiency leaps up and down. We don’t understand how to manage their health and evolution.

Perhaps the past 30 years of economic behavior would make more sense if we treated computers and IT as quite different from all other technologies. A technology where productivity both rises and falls, even before one considers the impact on complexity and how complexity enables fraud.

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