Feeds

The UK census computer: genius or disaster waiting to happen?

Well, we'll know soon enough

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The deadline for the UK's census is Sunday and from that point it's down to 1,200 people stuck in a giant warehouse in Cheshire.

The team are looking for a fast turnaround in processing the 33 million forms and so what have they done? Why, gone and spent £58 million on a computer of course. This is no ordinary computer though. No, this one was built US firm Lockheed Martin and is based on one that was used for the US census last year. Still, it could be worse, it could be based on the computer that counted ballots (and chads) in Florida.

Anyway, depending on who you believe, this system is a revolutionary leap or a disaster just waiting to happen. The main problem lies in the fact that it thinks it can read handwriting - always a recipe for disaster. There's a load of guff about how it can read 88 forms a minute, about how it can read a form even if it has coffee stains on it or has been filled in with a leaky pen. It has been finely attuned to read specifically British handwriting and it's amazing.

Of course, we've been here plenty of times before. The one thing that computers are completely useless at is thinking like humans. And when you consider that there has been a record number of phone calls to the census people confused over the new forms, it doesn't take a genius to work out the potential for catastrophe.

People will use joined-up writing - even when they're told not to. People will cross out words and write above them. They will also write outside of boxes. Hopefully, if the computer can't read just one small bit of the form, the whole form will be given to a human, but then you can't be sure of that.

The possibility remains that the census will take far longer than expected and will produce less accurate information than ever before. But then, this is all speculation. We'll all get to see if the £250 million job goes smoothly in just a few days. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
DOUBLE BONK: Testy fanbois catch Apple Pay picking pockets
Users wail as tapcash transactions are duplicated
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.