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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

IT’s so effortless

THE MORE EAGLE-EYED among you may havedetected from the front cover some of thesubtle clues that this month, The Actuaryincludes an IT focus.IT and I have had a rocky relationship. I used to considermyself quite a computer-literate person. Fifteenor so years ago, I was lucky enough to have the use ofa Sinclair QL. This was the kind of computer where, ifyou wanted anything other than a black rectangle toappear on your screen, you had to write yourself aprogram. I happily whiled away many a school nightwriting programs to solve maths problems, playmusic, and draw pictures, and versions of games likeConnect 4 and Tetris, not to mention my own masterpiece,the catch-things-in-a-frying-pan game. Itnever sold particularly well, for some reason. (PerhapsI should have called it ‘Star Crusaders II: revenge ofthe frying-pan-wielding alien squelchers’.)Anyway, my ability to get the computer to do thingswas the result of many hard hours’ grind in front ofthe screen, and I considered the deterioration in myexam performance and my sorry social life trophiesfor my toil.Nowadays, of course, you don’t need to know anyprogramming languages to get your PC to do things.Software companies have, with a cruel sense of timing,released programs that have rendered my oncetreasuredprogramming skills redundant. Armed witha few basic commands, anyone can get their PC to dothings that are much more impressive than I couldever have asked of my long-retired QL.The fact that I have a PC on my desk has rendereduseless many of the other skills I spent my schoolyears developing. Because I have not needed to carryout mental arithmetic for a decade, if I now wanted towork out 17% of 548 in my head I’d struggle to do itwithout murmuring loudly and grimacing in anunsightly fashion.I no longer need to be able to spell. In this articlealone, my computer has corrected automatically thespelling of 13 words. Some of the spellings were theresult of my clumsy fingers, but most of them weredown to the deterioration in my spelling. (I alwayshave to be careful with this autocorrect function,otherwise it decides that my name is Colon Donor,and that I work in Paradise, in the town of Horseman.)Just as technology has put paid to some industriesthat required skilled craftsmen, could it also spell theend of the need to carry out basic tasks like adding upand writing things down?I suppose I should be pleased that some of the hardwork has gone out of computing (although I wouldhave preferred it if that had happened before I wastedall those evenings), but can it be good for future generationsnot to have to bother with at least two of thethree Rs?Despite my ranting, I don’t think I’ll be staging asymbolic IT boycott just yet. I need to email off thiseditorial in a minute. And besides, I’m hoping tomake my fortune from ‘Star Crusaders III: the hot wokof justice’.