Posted by Mike Rollings (aka M7580624892)
I could hardly believe the article in the New York Times yesterday "Your Name's Not on Our List? Change It, Beijing Officials Say". This article is a sad testament to how restrictions imposed by information technology affect the names Chinese citizens can give to their children.
The Chinese government has a new identity card. The character recognition software used can only recognize 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters. As a result, 60 million Chinese citizens cannot get new cards. But the unique combinations of characters that form names makes it even worse. The government list of names will include only 8,000 characters. As a result, people with unique names that do not make the cut are being asked to change their name. "Mike we have determined that our IT systems can only recognize one letter in your name, so we would like you to be named M."
This is not just a folly of a government's inability to protect its culture, it is a profound example of IT limitations imposed on a fundamentally human quality - individuality. But, IT limitations do not need to be as profound as human individuality to take note of this problem. We don't need to look far for other examples of where a technical limitation imposes, sometimes hidden, restrictions.
One example is the limitation imposed by the carrying capacity of data formats used inside the IT systems we create. Limitations like field length that exist in many IT transaction systems cause organizations to reduce the meaning of the information the format is meant to convey because it does not fit the carrying capacity of the format. The impact is compounded as data flows from one system to another, each with their own format and length quirks, adding to the reduction in information fidelity.
Information fidelity is a problem for almost all organizations, but the business is unaware of just how messy the information environment is. My friends in our Data Management Strategies coverage area have a deep understanding of data quality and data interoperability issues like this.
Back to the Chinese ID card for a moment... Maybe the IT project started with the fact that 100 surnames cover 85 percent fo China's citizens versus 70,000 surnames covering 90 percent of Americans. So what's the big deal? We increased the number of names that people can have - deal with it! The IT assumption being an increase in the number of names recognized is good enough.
I'm sure there was a reason for the limitation, but I think the original assumption needs rethinking. If you assumed citizens could have any name, and you have an ID card with a unique number for every citizen, do you really need to have a registered name that can be recognized as an authorized character combination? Couldn't you just treat it like a string of Chinese characters till the software improves? Perhaps there is another way around this issue.
Maybe the assumptions have been questioned, but it is concerning in a broader respect. Has IT become complacent about these types of limitations to the point where we unconsciously obscure the affect of these limitations and as in this case undermine ancient culture?