Digital services

Many people like their smart phones and small computers. Many large companies are keen to get us to transact on the internet, pressing us to bank on line, have on line accounts for our utilities, to shop on line and receive advice on line. There is a pressure to go further, with more robo advice, greater use of artificial intelligence, and more activity from our sitting room chair. If enough people do it the large company saves on High Street property and on contact staff. Done really well, the error rate could go down as more fail safe methods are built into computer programmes. Some say there is some evidence that able professionals assisting computer experts to record their expertise in the form of computer programmes and algorithims can set up higher quality and more consistent service than if individual professionals do it on a personal basis. The computer, if properly programmed , has the best and latest professional view and will apply the rules consistently, unswayed by the individual client.

I think there is a lot of merit in new technology. Government is slow to adapt, but it could make a difference there, cutting costs and improving service. The computer can provide the service 7 days a week 24 hours day, needs no holidays and doesn’t take sick leave. A well run system can be constantly improved and flexed to cut error and incorporate best practise. Some of the cost savings can be passed on to the consumer. We should anticipate more offers we cannot refuse to go digital, more artificial intelligence, and more computer involvement and assistance in our daily lives.

There are, however, still a good number of bugs in the systems that annoy or could prove damaging. The very same systems that give you a flexible ability to buy and to get advice and help at the press of a mouse are vulnerable to cyber attack. There has been a rash of thefts from people’s savings through fraudulent emails, instructions and diversions of money and other financial assets from on line accounts. There have been a number of damaging interruptions to service when a whole bank is no longer able to service customers and move money in its accounts. The computer may not be having time off, but the computer or the communications systems it relies on can crash and leave people without money or access. As the efforts of companies to defeat cyber criminals intensify, so the routines people need to go through to prove their ID and to authorise a transaction become that more complex. We are all suffering from password fatigue, with a plethora of passwords needed to get us through our daily routines. To improve security you need to have all different passwords, with nothing obvious or memorable, and regularly changed. Different systems anyway require different numbers of letters, numbers, punctuation and other symbols, and require different schedules for changing them.

There are also limitations to algorithms and pre programmed advice. The computer’s decision is only as good as the information the client or patient puts in, and that may be determined by the form provided electronically to put in the facts, and narrowed by the computer’s ability to understand the information. Computers do not yet do body language, read between the lines, or ask the left field question if suspicious that the person is not giving them the full story in the way a person can do.

There is plenty of talent going into the digital world trying to proxy more of the characteristics of people in the way machines and computers respond. As they do so they come to appreciate the enormous complexity and sophistication of the human muscle system and the human mind. We are still some way away from having great robots to do the dusting or peeling potatoes, as these require good hand eye co-ordination and sensitivity to the objects being dealt with.

The revolution will press on, and new generations of machines will encompass new skills. The machine has largely taken over the modern factory, but has not yet offered a value for money way of doing most of the housework. Computers help business churn out invoices, delivery documents, sales campaigns and the rest,but that still leaves most of the management and vision of the business to people. Government needs to apply more technology to its own processes so they are available longer hours, are more accurate and more productive. It also needs to make sure the UK is the right environment for education, training and development of small and new businesses, so we can be at the leading edge of this innovation wave.


  1. Nig l
    September 29, 2018

    Our digitisation has been and continues to be hampered by one large infrastructure provider in a ‘monopolistic’ situation and the reluctance of HMG and the Regulator to force them to open up to faster footed competition.

    All well and good talking about services but we need the capacity first.

    1. Iain Gill
      September 29, 2018

      its been hampered by the government digital service, and its academic political view of the world, and its lack of understanding of how big IT programmes really work.

      yea its been hampered by poor procurement decisions, mostly centralising and monolythic approaches with ever more complex rules invented by politicians causing way more complexity than is needed and forcing bespoke rather than off the shelf approaches.

      competition and end user choice is what keeps things optimising and improving in the developed world, and government should leverage the power of this by empowering end citizens to have buying power whenever possible, and give the providers as close to the citizens as possible the power to innovate. it would be perfectly possible to do this in far more ways than people imagine.

  2. Cheshire Girl
    September 29, 2018

    I have it on very good authority, that the IT systems the Government organisations use, are very poor. Some of them are still using XP. This leads to numerous problems. They need to update.

    1. Iain Gill
      September 29, 2018

      its far far worse than that, the desktop of the users in various departments is a small part of the pie. the spagetti legacy backends are a far bigger problem, and are unlikely to get improved quickly with any of the likely political decision makers in charge (and the clowns they typically listen to as supposed experts on this)

  3. Fedupsoutherner
    September 29, 2018

    What a very apt posting for me today John. I already do internet banking, check my statements for my credit card, pay different bills over the internet and send in meter readings etc. Yesterday I picked up my new car which is full of technology. Apparently I can control some things on it when I am away from i t through my phone. I have set this up but then wondered if it were completely safe. Yes, we are all guilty of being lax when it comes to security and I would go into panic mode if my phone was stolen now. The one thing i am careful of though is never to give out information on fraudulent emails or telephone calls. This is an area where we are all vulnerable. Computers are great when there are no problems but if there are then they become a nightmare.

    1. Alan Jutson
      September 29, 2018


      Yes new cars are more reliable than ever before, but ever more complex for it.

      Strange that you can also be fined for eating/chewing a sweet when driving, and of course for using a hand held telephone (also talk about including hands free), but for endless scrolling on the cars infotainment system to which everything is connected, seems ok, when it is that which takes your eyes off the road for longer than finding a sweet.
      Couple all that with the stupid idea that you will be fined for travelling 1mph over a speed limit, and its a wonder if people will be able to spend most of their time looking at the road when driving at all.

      1. Lifelogic
        September 29, 2018

        Indeed I often rent cars and so they are different every time. I think the entertainment systems can be dangerously distracting. Even selecting a radio station can require you to look at the screen for quite a while.

  4. Iain Gill
    September 29, 2018

    Learn from previous government attempts at tech.

    White heat of technology aka Concorde was loss making.

    Blair’s billions on NHS IT was dreamt up with a similar vision as this, but was a disaster of top down control and completely the wrong people calling the shots.

    Politicians should simplify the rules of the systems so that tech can implement them more easily, give as much power to individuals as possible, make state service providers small and subject to competition, and delegate innovation decisions to the lowest level possible.


  5. Lifelogic
    September 29, 2018

    The main problem is the huge loss of privacy. It is like having a phone line but in order to use it you have to agree that all calls will be listened into and the transcripts sold to others for profit. Or going to a library and agreeing someone will watch everything you read or look up. This gives the providers masses of confidential information. (Medical conditions of you and your family, your financial position, if you are considering divorce etc.)

    Doing everything on line (tax returns, insurance and the likes) can also be far more time consuming you can often not file something unless you answer every single question you cannot put it “info not to hand will follow”. Also the forms can force you into yes/no or A B C D answers non of which are actually the real truth of the situation. You might not actually know the answer for to an insurance proposal question.

    The other problem is you are often forced to supply loads of information to a company before you even know if the product is remotely suitable or sensible value.

    Yet another problem is that you are usually forced (or sometimes tricked) into accepting & agree to very long and onerous terms and conditions that you have not have time to read, are difficult to understand or you simply cannot proceed.

  6. Alan Jutson
    September 29, 2018

    Agreed that computers of all sorts can provide more efficient working if they work properly.

    The problem is many of us out here in the real world are not all computer literate or indeed want to be.
    So for goodness sake have some thought for those who are not up to speed or who do not even take part.
    Many of us have had no formal computer trying at work, and are completely self taught, and soon become unfamiliar with new, complicated and updated programmes, which software companies providing little or no support and training for.

    If we are not careful we will become a nation of Zombies who can only communicate via a screen, the evidence is all around you, deadpan faces all looking at screens everywhere you go.
    No one looking out of windows on buses and trains, cyclists with headphones stuck in or on their ears, groups of people looking at screens around a table instead of talking.

    You have already mentioned security which is proving an absolute nightmare for many in trying to keep their details safe only for the companies/professionals who store such info to be hacked.

    Yes we must progress but please make it so that the systems and programmes are inclusive and simple and logical to operate.

    1. Alan Jutson
      September 29, 2018

      OOPS – Training at work.

    2. Dave , Spencers Wood
      September 30, 2018

      “You have already mentioned security which is proving an absolute nightmare for many in trying to keep their details safe only for the companies/professionals who store such info to be hacked.”

      It isn’t a problem if you hire the right professionals. Which the Conservative party has failed to do.

  7. Andy
    September 29, 2018

    AI and robotics is a highly advanced field which requires the best brains in the world. The UK was a world leader – but then came the Brexit vote, where highly qualified foreigners were given the clear message that they are not welcome here.

    Meanwhile, the angry old people who sent that message will not even bank online – something which costs us all money as banks, unnecessarily, have to keep thousands of high street branches open at huge expense just to appease Doris and co and still think cheques are a modern payment method.

    1. Alison
      September 29, 2018

      Andy, The UK has and has had for many decades leading AI experts. Brexit did not shut them out.
      On bank closures, it is our impression up here in Scotland, where banks are closing many branches (forcing businesses to drive 50, 60 miles or more to get to a bank and back, eg for change … in particular for tourists, costing these businesses large amounts of salaried time), that the closure decisions have everything to do with improving banks’ profit margins and nothing to do with providing their customers with a service.

    2. libertarian
      September 29, 2018


      As always completely totally and utterly wrong.

      In fact the UK is such a world leader that following the EU’s insane GDPR, Article 11 & Article 13 Dutch digital companies are now locating in London. We are creating a new Digital company every 50 minutes . I’ve seen an upsurge in French companies moving to Kent too.

      As far as internet banking is concerned , even more cobblers from you. My mum is 90 she uses her iPad to do banking and online shopping.

      The facts

      Silver Surfers ( over 55’s) this age group uses the internet on average four hours more per month than the age group 18-24, and spend a majority of their time using search engines and online shopping sites.

      Remember Andy this old pensioner generation are in fact the people who invented this technology

      Your continued weird rants about old people make you look like a whiny child

      Mind the fact that you are wrong on just about everything you post, it would seem its you who can’t use the internet, ever thought of googling the facts before you post ?

      1. Andy
        September 29, 2018

        Um – most of the tech you talk of was invented by Generation X not the Baby Boomers. Generation X-ers are overwhelmingly pro-EU having been European citizens for most of their adult lives. They grew up in a multi-cultural country and are not bothered about immigration. To us pasta or curry is not foreign food.

        1. Edward2
          September 29, 2018

          Immigration started twenty years before you were born andy.
          Us oldies have grown up with a diverse society and love the variety of food.
          Your attempts to paint our generation as rascist is hopelessly wrong.

        2. Anonymous
          September 29, 2018

          According to Andy there was nothing wrong with Doris’s level of intelligence when she voted Remain in 1975.

          Very selective is our Andy.

        3. libertarian
          October 1, 2018


          WRONG unless Generation X were 4 years old when they “invented ” the technology.

          Computing, silicon slices, micro processors etc etc etc were all invented in the 1950’s/60’s Of course Boomers also invented jet travel, containerisation, medical scanners and many other things

          Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web is a boomer

          Give it up Andy , the first curry house opened in London in 1810

    3. ian wragg
      September 29, 2018

      Forgot the tablets again Andy.

    4. Edward2
      September 29, 2018

      The UK has repeatedly said all will able to stay and that high skilled people are welcome to come here.
      It is the EU that is yet to comment on its policy on UK people.
      The rest of your post is nonsense and reads like an angry young troll.

  8. Adam
    September 29, 2018

    What turns a lock into a key?

    Some folk use a Password Management facility to overcome the demands & risks of coping with their many computer passwords. However, fraudsters offering Password Management services enable themselves easy fruitful access to their victims’ ‘protected’ assets. Beware!

  9. oldtimer
    September 29, 2018

    The digital revolution is unstoppable. It has its issues but then so does a system that relies entirely on people power. Any business of substance that fails to adapt is doomed to failure. It seems to me that the UK is a country which is more helpful than not in seeking to foster this revolution. Leaving the EU will only be beneficial in this respect.

  10. Norman
    September 29, 2018

    I know of farms using robotic systems to feed and milk herds of cows. In the early days, I was told of alarms going off at 2.00 am, when the farmer or herdsman had to get up to fix a problem, and the constant uncertainty wore them down mentally. But the one thing I observed for myself was that the cows, devoid of the customary human interaction, became very much more nervous of handling during routine veterinary tasks.
    Innovation of this kind will proceed at it’s own convenience and pace. But I wouldn’t be too keen to promote it for its own sake. The exact same effects seen in animals are going to be seen in people: soul-less dehumanization.

  11. forthurst
    September 29, 2018

    For some businesses, the chickens came home to roost when they decided to offshore their computer functions on the grounds that IT was non-core (unlike flogging fraudulent derivatives which has to be done in-house). However, getting your IT systems built and maintained in the third world is more risky than getting garments made there as the levels of skill required for a faultless performance are much higher. Furthermore, there are still too many bosses in charge of IT who themselves have never had to roll up their sleeves and do what they presume to expect of others and therefore have only a superficial understanding of the pitfalls involved in change management. Making any change to a computer system has to be thoroughly tested before being put into production and every step in sequence of procedures must have defined for it, the fallback recovery should it fail. As to moving a database from one operational system to another would require successful parallel running before a switch should be made.

  12. Anonymous
    September 29, 2018

    I was quite happy with the systems I was using ten years ago. Since they seem to have got worse.

    There are things that I could do on my computer that I am no longer allowed to do. It seems that I am forced to upgrade even though I don’t want to.

    Passwords are a nightmare both at home and at work. Door codes too for that matter. I need to know five just to get to my locker !

  13. Anonymous
    September 29, 2018

    AI is not good.

    I preferend things as they were. I am definitely not alone.

  14. agricola
    September 29, 2018

    Computers and their programmes are created by people at present so they reflect the imperfections of people and are ergo vulnerable to those of ill intent. While this inevitable revolution progresses spare a thought for those who did not get on the computer bus and are being left behind , plus of course those that for various health reasons cannot access all that this technology offers. We should not in our excitement for progress inadvertently create an uuder class in our midst.

  15. ian wragg
    September 29, 2018

    The self check outs at supermarkets are entirely for the benefit of the company, they are rarely quicker and open to fraud. Stick to the checkout assistant.

  16. Mark B
    September 29, 2018

    Good morning

    Nothing can beat the one on one human touch.

    Only yesterday I had to help a elderly gentleman at a cash point. He could not get any money out as there was no slot for his card. Instead the machine used a tap in reader. People do not always follow the latest technology and are happy with what they have. Most new ideas, particularly in banking and insurance are there to save the company money at the expense to customer service. A retrograde step me thinks.

  17. Atlas
    September 29, 2018

    Perhaps John you can remember the Alvey report from the 1980s on the future of things you are discussing? Like a lot of things to do with computers we are still trying to do things that the report thought was just around the corner.

    Don’t be taken in by the present round of AI hype – we had it in the 1960s and again in the 1980s and then the dot com boom of the 2000s.

    Yes, AI and other related approaches have improved a bit since the 80s – however not quite as much as the spin merchants would have us believe. Remember, it was Alan Turing’s discussions in the late 40s / early 50s that made people think AI was within immediate grasp.

    Sorry to be a downer on your premise but AI has its serious scale-size limits (exponential complexity) and also Internet Security has not really been handled properly either.

  18. Hugh Rose
    September 29, 2018

    Spare a thought for those of us who don’t have a mobile signal at home and have broadband that is so slow and unreliable that it makes any transaction online a nightmare.

    I don’t think you MPs who serve constituencies in the south of England are aware what we in the outback have to tolerate or you would be more demanding of BT etc

  19. Dee
    September 29, 2018

    I have used computers from the day dot, when there was no internet, no www, no Windows etc. Your computer could only do what you told it to do. Since then there has been many wonderful innovations in the computer world but along with these wonders come the dark side. Crims by the thousands educating themselves with the sole purpose of ripping people off. It is a shame I find hard to get around, so much talent going to waste. The point is, I realized long ago that no protection is infallible and would always be vulnerable to somebody. So I realized you could take one of two paths. Either put all you know on your PC for ease of use, add what protection was possible and take your chances with the hackers. Most people take this road. The road I decided to take was to put nothing on my PC that is of any use to anyone. To buy online ONLY through necessity and not through laziness. I don’t leave my PC on 24/7 and at the end of the day I remove everything that has been used through the day, cookies, cache, history everything, believe me, they are not necessary like they try to tell you they are, they just want to know your business. Try it and you will see. As soon as a web page is finished with I remove its cookies etc, if I go back to that site 10 mins later, it works just as normal. They are not helping you, they are helping themselves, to your information. I wonder how many keyloggers come in those cookies? I have the usual array of defenses and clean up programs but most of all I have peace of mind. I honestly wish that I COULD use the PC as it is meant to be used, a great tool, but not yet.

    To the one who is knocking business for still using Windows XP, there is a good reason for that, Win XP is the best OS that Microsoft has ever produced. I have 6 computers, all with different Operating System, each tried in excess of a year and XP knocks the pants off the rest. The right thing for Microsoft to have done was to keep XP as is and improve it with add ons, but that doesn’t bring in revenue so keep churning out another load of rubbish every two years or so. To think, those OSs after XP were all based on Vista, the worst OS of all.
    Another safety procedure I take is the use of USB Dongles. Everything that is downloaded from the net is downloaded to a Dongle, the download is scanned with three anti-malware programs and only then is it installed to the C drive. Anything keepable is also kept on Dongles so should a format become necessary I keep what I want. Just my twopenny worth:-) PS: External drive almost as good but slower.
    PPS: I can control what I do, I can’t control what others do. I have been informed this morning that a very reputable Marine Chandlers ASAP whom I deal with has been hacked and may have compromised my details. Now it means a trip to the bank to change my card. Ho Hum.

  20. margaret
    September 29, 2018

    AI has a lot more to offer and I am sad that I won’t be here to see the future when it is in full swing. Having watched some of the programmes on the box giving us an insight into the future and sensitivities robots could deliver, the concern of myself and the scientists/ presenters gives a bleak scenario where robot control could exist. ( although a conversation where facts exist and potential other could improve many lives to the alternatives many are forced to live with)

    What I find annoying at work is the constant pop up windows which turn the medical journal off in the middle of my consultations every hour or so, the configurations and other computer errors where I need to spend patients time restarting and re logging in. It is most frustrating.
    I really need a decent mobile phone which has a good camera which up loads easily on to my computer and a brilliant ‘consistent app which downloads check on and boarding passes to save all the problems when my home printer won’t work ; which is most times! (the connection is abysmal)

    1. libertarian
      September 29, 2018


      That is entirely due to the complete incompetents who run the EU and the UK government. Constant requests to accept cookies, agree that you’ve read the GDPR mandate, and T&C’s has made web browsing a farce

      iPhone has great camera and airport makes it easy to print via bluetooth , cheaper option is Samsung J5 5″ screen under £200 sim free good camera. All smart phones handle E tickets

  21. ChrisShalford
    September 29, 2018

    One problem in applying for something online is the constant need to break off to find a document or figure. Application on paper does not have this problem as we can look through the form before filling it in to see which documents/figures we will need. Websites could eliminate this disadvantage by starting with a list of items needed during the application process.

    September 30, 2018

    “World Wide Web inventor plans a new version to bypass big tech companies” New York Times, article is shorter than previously today.
    It begins with a silliness in my opinion , Project Kiddies Fear
    “Like Dr. Frankenstein, Tim Berners-Lee — creator of the World Wide Web — is disgusted by the monster he unleashed on the world.”

  23. survivor
    October 1, 2018

    “password fatigue” “letters, numbers, puctuation”
    You’re telling me !
    Spent 30 minutes this morning trying to find out how much I owed on one of my two water bills as the password didnt work. change password via verification code ( twice).
    A nice man from Virgin (?) came round a few weeks ago and changed my passwords.
    Digital security he said sternly, whilst installing me some new equipment.
    I feel quite guilty that I’m jacking his equipment and the landline in in a week and going digital free. It can be done. etc ed

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