Dashboards. Dots and Dashes.

I casually asked a young man what he was studying in the university, and he replied “Info Systems”. “Dashboards? UX?” I prompted. “Something like that” came the reply, as though trying to answer a six-year-old and having that six-year-old stop asking. It brought two things to my mind.

The first was a remark made by a certain General Goldfein, saying that having your screens go blank wasn’t a commander’s greatest nightmare – they were all trained for that. The greatest nightmare a commander could have was to be staring at screens full of well-organized, brilliantly displayed, actionable information – and not knowing whether that screen could be trusted.

The second was a sharing by a certain Dr Condoleezza Rice about how, when she was growing up, she had wanted to give up on her piano lessons because she felt that she would be better off pursuing something else. Her parents said “Condi, you’re not old enough and you’re not good enough to make that decision.”

I learn a lot picking up odds and ends from what other people say. Perhaps universities would do better if they called called their “Info Systems” courses something else. Something like “Decision Support Systems” or some can’t-get-it-out-of-my-mind term that some marketer might conjure up, but which is something I probably don’t have much talent for. It might actually help young undergraduates to focus better on what they actually want to achieve by having their parents pay an arm and a leg for whatever course they choose to do. The General I referred to earlier, General Goldfein, undoubtedly knows that systems are mere systems. Systems can be penetrated and made to throw up incorrect information at just the critical moment, for example. A hair’s breadth is all the difference between taking out an enemy destroyer and blowing up one of your own submarines, after all. General Goldfein was also experienced enough and his people were undoubtedly also experienced enough and had worked with each other long enough to be able to look at that screen with all the brilliantly displayed actionable information, and know that something was not quite right with the way that icon in Quadrant 3 was moving. They would also know when a message was authentic, with or without “authentication”, and which message was not, because they knew each other well enough. More than sonar deep. Which is saying something, because dolphins are able to sense colour, texture, shape and so forth, just using their own sonar. Dogs know who’s approaching, long before we do. They can smell intentions, hostile or otherwise. I helped raise many dogs. I probably know what I’m talking about.

That is what Dr Condoleezza Rice’s parents were saying, too. “Old enough” actually means “mature enough” or “discerning enough”. How does one get there? Age and experience. Plus having the mindset of always learning and never thinking one knows it all, like Genghis Khan at the age of 60 and still leading campaigns instead of retiring and drinking himself to death on “airak” or fermented mare’s milk. What about getting to “good enough”? Well, practice, reflection, synthesis, integration, application. Rinse and repeat. And using fresh water each time you rinse.

How’s your dashboard? Can you trust what you receive? Can you even trust what you transmit? Do you have a good SIT picture? Are you looking forward to using “Info Systems” or are you cowering in fear of what ChatGPT and later improved versions might do to you?

Come talk to me. You’re welcome!

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