Larry Hosken: New: Tag: trust-the-machine

Book Report: The Glass Cage

I finished reading this pointless book. It was always in the "neighborhood" of saying something interesting. It's about things that technology gets wrong, a topic I'm interested in. I kept hoping! But alas… It dances around the topic of automation's drawbacks, but never gets there.

There are interesting things to say about this. Every so often, someone automates something that, in hindsight, shouldn't have been automated; things go wrong; folks go back to doing things "by hand". Those are interesting stories. Those are not this book's stories. Instead, this book rails against cases where something is automated and nobody wants to go back to doing things by hand. E.g., airplanes used to have another crew member: a navigator. With so many of their duties automated, it stopped making sense. So modern airline passengers endure automatically-generated routes instead of hand-crafted artisanal… Stellar navigation skills have dwindled with the lack of demand. (I learned how to use an astrolabe back in school. Have I since forgotten? Yes, yes I have.) There hasn't been hue and cry about this because air passengers just want to, y'know, get to San Francisco safely; they don't much care whether someone is feeling fulfilled navigating the route. I think that's fine. Air passengers think that's fine. This book's author wants to complain about these things, though.

This book thoroughly attacks the straw man: Everything should be automated with the technology we have right now. Yep, by the time you're done reading, you won't think that's true.

It suggests that I'd probably be interested in reading about the history of Electronic Medical Records, which sounds like something that I'd be interested in (automated but, in hindsight, probably shouldn't have been*).

(My apologies for making you read this on the internets instead of commissioning a scribe to hand-copy it for each of you. No apology necessary, you say? OK nevermind then.)

*Then again, considering how much the book complains about things that automation improved, maybe I shouldn't assume EMRs fall into the "made-worse" category just on this book's say-so.

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