Automation and us

Daniel Menaker in The New York Times:

BookIn his previous book, “The Shallows” — essential reading about our Internet Age — Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and author of several books about technology, discussed the detrimental effects the Web has on our reading, thinking and capacity for reflection. In this new book, “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us,” similarly essential if slightly repetitive, Carr explains how certain aspects of automative technology can separate us from, well, Reality. How, for all its ­miraculous-seeming benefits, automation also can and often does impair our mental and physical skills, cause dreadful mistakes and accidents, particularly in medicine and aviation, and threaten to turn the algorithms we create as servants into our mindless masters — what sci-fi movies have been warning us about for at least two or three decades now. (As Carr puts it near the end of “The Glass Cage,” when “we become dependent on our technological slaves . . . we turn into slaves ourselves.”)

Exhibit A: Electronic medical records. In 2005, the RAND Corporation predicted that electronic medical records “could save more than $81 billion annually and improve the quality of care.” But as it turns out, Carr shows us, along with the usefulness of these records has arrived a plague of problems — above all, the interposition of the computer screen between doctors and their patients. Studies have proved that checking records, possible diagnoses and drug interactions on a computer during a medical examination can interfere with what should be not only a fact-based investigation but a deeply human, partly intuitive and empathetic process. One tiny but telling detail: Handwritten records allow physicians to pick out and attend to the comments of individual colleagues. How? Penmanship. In computerized rec­ords, one font fits all.

More here.