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Harold Thimbleby

Human factors failings in the German Enigma design

The German World War II Enigma suffered from design and use weaknesses that facilitated its large-scale decryption first by the Polish and then continued in Britain throughout the war. The main technical weaknesses (self-coding and reciprocal coding) could have been avoided using simple contemporary technology, and therefore the true cause of the weaknesses is not technological but must be sought elsewhere. We argue that human factors issues resulted in the persistent failure to notice and seek out more effective designs. Similar limitations beset the historical literature, which misunderstands the Enigma weaknesses and therefore inhibits broader thinking about design and the critical role of human factors engineering in cryptography.

IT is the problem with healthcare

It seems obvious that modern healthcare needs more and more modern IT. For instance, it is obvious that most hospitals are years behind patients' and doctors' use of apps and social media, and the gap is getting worse. Yet this popular view is fundamentally muddled. In fact IT plays a critical part in hospital inefficiency and avoidable patient harm. Merely having more will be counter-productive. A recent UK court case over the corruption of patient data serves as a good example of our widespread inability to understand, provide, use or develop dependable IT - and we blame the wrong things. This talk will explain key problems with IT and go some way to explaining why hospital error has become Europe's unacknowledged third biggest killer (close after cancer and heart disease) - and that thinking more clearly about IT is essential. The problems with IT also beset every other organisation, especially public services, including universities, although these organisations rarely kill their customers and students! This talk will be of interest to all thinkers about the future uses of computers, and especially patients, potential patients (that's all of us), and particularly programmers who could deliver the improved IT that is needed. The talk itself aims to be interesting to general audiences, but experts in formal methods and human factors will recognise the underlying science.

Prof Harold Thimbleby

Prof Harold Thimbleby PhD FRCPE FIET CEng FLSW HonFRSA HonFRCP is an internationally respected computer scientist who has given over 500 invited talks in 32 different countries. He primarily works in healthcare IT and its collision with humans and human error - helping improve patient safety with better designed IT. His research team won the 2014 GE Healthcare Award for Outstanding Impact in Healthcare. Harold is an Expert Advisor on IT to the Royal College of Physicians, an MHRA expert assessor, and an expert witness in medical device legal cases - typically helping defend nurses who have been blamed for problems caused by faulty IT. His book Press On won several international prizes. He has been a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award holder and a Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellow. His web site is