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The coronavirus is revealing our technology blunders


You’ve lost your job and now you face an obsolete, sluggish unemployment system that feels like it was written in the 1950s. Actually, it’s more than a feeling. If you’re in New Jersey, New York or Connecticut, your unemployment system was written in 60-year-old Cobol. Meanwhile, if you want to apply for unemployment benefits online in Washington, D.C., the system insists you use Internet Explorer. As I recall, IE was put out to pasture five years ago.

With the United States leading the world both in total number of COVID-19 diagnoses and total number of deaths related to the virus, a lot of people have been asking how the richest country in the world could do so poorly in dealing with a pandemic. We might also be asking how the most technologically advanced country in the world can be so technologically backwards in some ways.

Part of the answer might be that the United States began implementing technology so early in the digital revolution. A lot of what was written then, including that old Cobol code, was just never updated.

But even as we’re discovering just how much we’re relying on obsolete, semi-broken software, we’re also finding that newer programs are also troubled. The Zoom videoconferencing service has gone from enjoying wild popularity to being endlessly criticized for security and privacy problems. It even has a new kind of security problem — zoom-bombing — named after it.

These problems have all come to light in the unrelenting glare of the coronavirus pandemic.

The first problem is that old technology, like those government websites backed by decades old code, simply isn’t up to the job.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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