Social Risk Analysis of Chromebook

Yesterday’s news about Google launching Chromebook is nothing short of exciting! I say it is about time that we aggregated applications and services in the cloud, made desktop computing simpler to use, and centralized the security/privacy problem (thereby leading to a concentrated solution to the problem versus the current distributed approach). While the traditional multi-layered model of security still makes complete sense, what I am referring to is eradicating the need for millions of people trying to “patch” the same problem with millions of band-aids as opposed to one entity doing what it (hopefully) does best.

But as I sat back to think about the impact of this development, it occurred to me that while information risk is mitigated and better managed, another dimension of risk is worsening. That is, the prospect of many IT people gradually being phased out of their bread and butter jobs. By no means is this criticism against Google or the idea of cloud computing. It is simply a reflective analysis of what will happen the day your workstation at school, at work, or at home gets replaced by a Chromebook or an equivalent offering. I am not saying change will take place overnight, but it’s inevitable and it’s fast approaching.

Let’s take a moment to think about the “desktop” guy or gal who supports your computing needs at your organization. Or the “helpdesk” person who may no longer be needed to answer that tech support question you had. Better yet, the “anti-virus sales staff” who have been gainfully employed renewing annual contracts for enterprise-wide subscriptions. All of these types of positions and more are slated to either (1) move into an aggregate entity i.e. the provider of such services or (2) be phased out by the purported advancement of computing technology and its management. Again, don’t get me wrong, all of this is generally good at a big-picture level, from the perspective of evolution of mankind and its relationship with technology. However, the timing of it may be unfortunate.

Why do I use the word “unfortunate”? Well, I don’t see an immediate replacement or upgradation of people and their skills so that those impacted can move on to something new. When manufacturing industries took a slump and computerization set in, there was something to look forward to, something to get trained in, basically something to move on to. Sectors such as biotechnology or nanotechnology are not easy to move into. In their current state, these fields require a lot of technical knowledge and education for one to become a practitioner. And in some ways, parts of our society left education by the wayside as material access to goods and services was made more affordable and easily available thanks to – you guessed it, that desktop and its other sophisticated cousins. It became okay to skip out on learning the details of Math or Science because a computer could do it for us. In recent times, it was acceptable to not know everything up in the head – after all if you need something, it’s just a “Google search” away.

I promise I am not trying be be controversial here. In fact, I am an ardent supporter of the advent of technology and its management. But I do worry about hundreds of thousands of professionals whose work output could be replaced by only thousands of staff and computers in the years to come. As they say, time and tide wait for no man. Is Education the best risk mitigation of all?

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