Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hospitals should not fly on autopilot alone

The CNN report below by Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell is disturbing evidence that professionals can become too dependent upon computer systems. As computers become smarter humans are becoming more entirely dependent upon them. That is scary. One of the most fundamental aspects of flying is knowledge that when a plane is near a stall condition you put the nose down (assuming you have some altitude to work with). For a copilot not to have converted that from knowledge into instict is a serious issue. It is true that when one flies "by the seat of the pants" bad things can happen. But to substitute faith in computer systems for tacit knowledge is not good either.

Medical settings, of course, are highly automated these days and many new employees are members of "generation net," meaning that they grew up with digital skills (Tapscott, 2008). There is a limit to the degree to which automation can substitute for human knowledge and skills. To think that the transcription of audio tapes by physicians into medical records might be accomplished using voice recognition software is, in my opinion, outrageous at this time. Humans should oversee what computer systems are being programmed to do. The answer is not just more intuitive computer interfaces. Computer systems today are intentionally being designed to minimize the need for human working memory. The answer is humans who although they grew up digital still have real tacit knowledge. We may already be beyond the point of no return.

Tapscott, D. (2008) Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World.
New York: McGraw-Hill.

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