I once asked a free-market economist how he would analyse the Irish famine, which is sometimes seen as an example of too much free trade: while people starved, ship-loads of food were leaving Ireland weekly.
“The lesson of the Irish famine is,” quoth he, “never be over-dependent on one crop, or one source.” The single crop on which so many were dependent was, of course, the potato.
I do not know whether this advice always works in practice. There may be situations in which people have no alternative but to depend on one crop. But translated into non-agricultural terms, it’s surely sensible always to have a Plan B, or back-up, to any system.
The cyber-attacks on the NHS computer system last weekend – with more threats in the offing – has surely highlighted our over-dependence on computer electronics. We now do everything by computer. When you try to pay a bill, or renew your driving licence, or buy travel insurance or book a ticket for an event, you will be encouraged to “go online”.
Yes, doing stuff online is often convenient. But it shouldn’t be the only source of communication. Sometimes the best “back-up” to save computerised files is … print and paper.
Whoever was attacking the NHS systems is surely committing a wicked act, putting at risk the health of patients in urgent need of an operation or a diagnosis which may be kept in an on-screen file. There is no “system” ever invented which is not vulnerable to someone, somewhere sabotaging or imperilling it, sometimes for gain, sometimes just for the sheer kick of exerting power.
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