I admit that I have some vices… one of them being watching Airline Disaster shows. I don’t know why I’m obsessed with them, especially as much as I fly for work and pleasure but I admit I can spend a good few hours on YouTube watching them. I always wanted to work for the NTSB- I think I enjoy the mystery aspect of it- along with my love of all things flight related. One of the things I have noticed in the more recent accident the airlines have had is that sometimes the computer or the auto pilot can confuse or even hamper a flight crew’s understanding and control of a situation, presenting data that is both confusing and wrong.
Which is why this article on Quartz stuck out to me. The paragraph that catches my eye below:
Europe’s painful and possibly needless austerity
Excel errors helped to push serious budget cuts that have roiled Europe and devastated social services there. As IEEE.org explains:
Back in 2009, Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff published a book with the provocative title, “This Time It’s Different.” The professors asserted in their book that, among other things, their empirical research demonstrated that when advanced economies’ public liabilities reach or exceed “the important marker of 90 percent of GDP,” long-term economic growth and stability are placed at peril.
Governments, and particularly European governments, went on to use Reinhart and Rogoff’s book to justify their embrace of austerity. But a University of Mass review of their book and the research it was based on found “coding errors, selective exclusion of available data, and unconventional weighting of summary statistics,” linked in part to Excel errors.
As BreakingViews pointed out earlier this year, Microsoft Office, and particularly Excel, might be the “quiet villain of global finance,” given its programs implicated in some of the worst financial problems the world has experienced in recent years, including errors at Moody’s Investors Services that gave complicated debt instruments AAA ratings and the “elegant graphics of Power Point” which have validated some of the “wackiest results from spreadsheets and the kookiest strategies” by chief executives and investment bankers.
That’s rather frightening. But I also think its a good case that even as much as you may automate, its still good to have a few pairs of “human eyes” with training in their craft able to verify and look over how information is presented. It goes back to the adage “measure twice, cut once”. When one is dealing with lives and or things on a global level, best to let a human make the ultimate decision… with help from a machine.
You just can’t take the human element out of daily interactions and expect to be successful in the long term.