Not Good Enough - Not by a long shot


Mark Dreyfus - Attorey-General of Australia

 “The robodebt royal commission remains there as an absolutely salutary warning to Australian public servants and future Australian governments: when an act of the Parliament directs certain things occur, that has to be obeyed,” Dreyfus told The Mandarin.

That sounds nice, but what does it mean? When the precise meaning of the legislation allows interpretation, and your adversaries are clever unscrupulous people it means very little.

In one instance, the legislation said that “the best efforts of the department should be made to obtain payslips from the employer”. When the programmers asked what that meant, the lawyer said – “Ignore anything not defined”, easily casting responsibility away from the department and towards the welfare recipient.

We are suggesting that holding the legislation only in written form is a mistake. Instead, the legislation should be held in an active form – we call it Active Structure.

About 12% of the words in English have a single part of speech and a single definition. Of the rest, some have half a dozen parts of speech, some have seventy definitions. The meaning of the legislation needs to be locked up much more securely than it is now. Where it is vague (“best efforts”), notes in English can be added which augment the legislation, and show who signed off on them. The notes aren’t just pieces of paper, but become parts of the workings of the legislation – that is, the English text of the legislation is also the workings of the legislation.

 For fity years, we have had to take a piece of legislation or specification and rewrite it into a crude computer language – Cobol, Fortran, Pascal, C++, while tolerating the severe limit on the programmers' Conscious Mind - the Four Pieces Limit.  Now that computers have large memories (since the nineties) and we have an English interface with the machine, we don’t have to do that any more (yes, some applications need to handle millions of records every day, but now we have something that can keep a running check on what is happening, and be an authoritative source on what is right or wrong). The source of many mistakes, or the enabler of corruption, has been removed. What you also get is a much faster response to change - you are "talking" the machine in English, not through an error-ridden chain.

Some examples:

Robodebt – two suicides, many thousands traumatised

Horizon – 4 suicides, many people falsely incarcerated

Boeing 737 MAX MCAS – defrauding the FAA, 346 deaths, despicable behaviour (“third world pilots” who weren’t told what they needed to know). An illustration of how inadequate the existing shields are if you rely only on people (maintenance of redundancy, V&V - all can be overturned in pursuit of money or the ilusion of power).


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