Here’s an excellent and chilling example of the importance of thinking carefully about complex opportunities and problems. Technical rationality is too narrow a perspective to adopt in an interconnected world. At the same time, we can’t simply cede control to power elites that believe that either nothing or everything is possible with technology.
Many people have heard me tell an anecdote that i learned while living in Holland: At the turn of the century, the Dutch government collected mass amounts of data about its citizens with good intentions. In order to give people proper burials, they included religion. In 1939, the Nazis invaded and captured that data in less than 3 days. A larger percentage of Dutch Jews died than any other Jews because of this system.
Well, i’d been searching for a citation for a while. Tonight, i remembered to ask Google Answers and in less than an hour, had a perfect citation:
The Dark Side of Numbers: The Role of Population Data Systems in Human Rights Abuses. Social Research, Summer, 2001, by William Seltzer, Margo Anderson
The essay is even better than my anecdote and i truly believe that anyone in the business of doing data capture should be required to read this.