Beneficial Intelligence

Beneficial Intelligence

A weekly podcast with stories and pragmatic advice for CIOs and other IT leaders.

Episodes

December 10, 2021 7 min

In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss other people's failures. They can affect you, as the recent Amazon Web Services outage showed. 

Cat owners who had trusted the feeding of their felines to internet-connected devices came home to find their homes shredded by hungry cats. People who had automated their lighting sat in darkness, yelling in vain at their Alexa devices for more light. More serious problems also oc...

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In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss the people shortage. It isn't real. 

Complaining about a lack of people is what is known as a "half argument." You say what you want, but not what you are willing to give up. That's like a politician promising to build a new public hospital but won't say where the money will come from. 

The full argument for missing people is "we cannot get the people we wa...

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October 29, 2021 7 min

In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss data hoarding. Gathering too much data costs money and doesn't add value.  We think we need all this data to train our AI, but hoarding data is the wrong place to start. 

Using a counterproductive metaphor, some say that "data is the new oil." That is a dangerous metaphor with no less than four problems:

  • First, data is not fungible like oil is. One barrel of oil is jus...
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    October 15, 2021 9 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss monoculture. Just like in farming, monoculture is efficient and dangerous.

    Modern farmers will plan hundreds or thousands of acres with the same crop. That gives efficiency because the entire crop will respond identically to fertilizer and pesticides. It also means that the entire harvest will be lost if some new pest or disease suddenly appears. Monoculture cost more than a mill...

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    October 1, 2021 9 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss trusting your vendors. You trust them to make their best effort at producing bug-free code. You probably trust that their software will perform at least 50% of what they promise. You might trust them to eventually build at least some of the features on their roadmap. But can you trust them to not build secret backdoors into the software they give you?

    Snowdon showed we cannot tru...

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    September 17, 2021 8 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss time to recover. The entire network of the justice ministry of South Africa has been disabled by ransomware, and they don't know when they'll be back. Do you know how long it would take you to recover each system your organization is running? 

    When you have an IT outage, what the business wants most is a realistic timeline for when services will be back. If IT can confide...

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    September 3, 2021 9 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss goal fixation. Richard Branson almost didn't make it back from space. His pilots had a problem and flew very close to the limit. They should have aborted. But the future of commercial spaceflight was resting on their shoulders. They were fixated on the goal, and that causes problems. 

    The reason we are finding out is that authorities noticed the flight was outside its designa...

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    August 20, 2021 8 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss the narrow focus of IT professionals. This is an unavoidable consequence of the complexity of the technology we use. We've had to learn to give our computers very exact instructions, and that informs our thinking. 

    The app from my local supermarket is obviously built by people with a narrow focus. If I search for "sugar," the first hit is "pickled cucumber (sugar-...

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    August 6, 2021 8 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss whether you should force people back to the office. This will be your most important leadership decision this year.  

    Apple told everyone to report back to the office. Apple CEO Tim Cook says that "in-person collaboration is essential to our culture." Google is expecting 20% of employees to work from home in the long term, while Facebook is expecting 50% remote work. The ...

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    July 23, 2021 6 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss humans and computers. Jeff Bezos went to space in a fully autonomous computer-controlled rocket. Richard Branson went to space last week, and he had humans flying his spacecraft. 

    The Silicon Valley mindset is that you can program or train computers to do anything. However, as the continuing struggle to build truly self-driving cars has shown, some things are still very, very har...

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    July 9, 2021 10 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss competition. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are competing who gets to space first, with both likely to blast off within the next two weeks. 

    Competition is one of the great forces propelling the world forward. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spacecraft is based on SpaceShipOne that won the Ansari X Prize back in 2004. That prize was for a private spacecraft tha...

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    June 25, 2021 7 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss pseudo-security. The lock on your front door is not secure. It takes an experienced locksmith an average of 7.1 seconds to manually an average door lock, and it's even faster with a "pick gun." 

    If locks are so bad, why don't we have even more burglaries? Because your total security does not only depend on the lock. A would-be burglar has to contend with the risk ...

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    June 18, 2021 7 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss how to choose what is good enough. 

    How do you know when something is good enough? That requires good judgment, which is unfortunately in short supply. 

    IT used in aviation, pharma, and a few other life-and-death industries are subject to strict standards. We can lean on standards like the GxP requirements that anyone in the pharma industry loves to hate. However, in the general I...

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    June 4, 2021 9 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss unnecessary roadblocks. Amazon has a problem finding enough workers, and they have decided to get rid of an unnecessary roadblock: They will no longer test people for marijuana use. As marijuana becomes legal in more and more states, Amazon decided they only need to test truck drivers and forklift operators, not everyone. 

    IT organizations are also always complaining that they ca...

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    May 28, 2021 7 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss expectation management. I was doing a small renovation project in our summer cottage, and I needed a special type of hinge. I found it on the website of our local building supplies store, but when I got to the store, it wasn't there. It turned out that this store was part of a co-branded chain. They had an aspirational website showing all the items a shop could potentially c...

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    May 7, 2021 10 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss gaming the metrics. We measure things to be able to manage them. But when we start using metrics to reward individual employees and teams, people will start gaming them. Newton's third law for business says that for every system the organization implements, the employees will implement an equal and opposite workaround that negates the system.  

    Amazon is managing a huge workf...

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    April 30, 2021 7 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss accidental publication. There are two ways organizations lose data: Through break-ins and through carelessness.  It is hard to protect your systems against determined hackers, but it should not be hard to protect yourself against carelessness. Strangely, this is just as big a source of data leaks as determined hacker attacks. 

    Some accidental losses are the result of individual f...

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    April 23, 2021 8 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss irrational optimism. IT people are too optimistic. It is a natural consequence of our ability to build something from nothing. Our creations are not subject to gravity or other laws of physics. A builder cannot decide halfway through a construction project that he wants to swap out the foundation, but IT regularly changes the framework in mid-project. 

    Similar optimism informs ou...

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    April 16, 2021 5 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss risk aversion. The U.S. has stopped distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It has been given to more than 7 million people, and there have been six reported cases of blood clotting. Here in Denmark, we have stopped giving the Astra Zeneca vaccine because of one similar case. That is not risk management, that is risk aversion. 

    There is a classic short story from 1911 by ...

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    April 9, 2021 7 min

    In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss biased data. Machine Learning depends on large data sets, and unless you take care, ML algorithms will perpetuate any bias in the data it learns from.  

    The famous ImageNet database contains 14 million labeled images. However, 6% of these have the wrong label. The labels are provided by humans paid very little per image, so they will work very fast. Unfortunately, as Nobel Prize ...

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