A view from Russell Davies

We can all learn a lesson from the Brazilian air force when it comes to tech

Just off the top of your head, which country do you think has the best air force - pound for pound? The answer, apparently, is...

Certainly, the US is the biggest and others could give you a bloody nose; but, in terms of money spent for efficacy gained, apparently everyone admires the Brazilians.

One reason for this – they have their relationship with information technology completely sorted. They are one of the few air forces in the world that have ever opted to trade in a small number of relatively new planes for a large number of older ones, supplementing these workhorses with a state-of-the-art information network.

They’ve understood that reliable, functional machines connected to improved sensing and smooth distribution of information make for a better air force than spending a fortune on making the individual machines invincible.

It reminds me of the lesson chess masters have learned about computers. Computers reliably beat humans. But humans and computers working together reliably beat computers working alone. And average players who really know their software reliably beat genius players with average computer skills.

This is the world now. No longer qual or quant, analogue or digital, artist or engineer, but all of them at once

Interestingly, grandmasters who have grown up with the analytical powers of computers have learned to throw more random moves into their games – taking away as much computer-trained advantage in their opponent as possible. Is that all horribly confusing?

And remember Moneyball – the story of how statistical analysis is overturning the conventional wisdom of baseball? Obviously, in the end, it turned out not to be quite that simple. The smartest teams worked out how to blend purely statistical analysis with subjective, intuitive scouting. It works in weather forecasting too – humans plus computers beat computers on their own or humans on their own.

All of this flashed through my head as I watched someone flapping in front of a presentation the other day. A smart, intelligent, grown-up who behaved like he’d never seen presentation software before and wasn’t particularly ashamed of the fact. It’s like being booked for a violin recital, turning up with your violin and being mystified when everyone expects you to play it.

This is the world now. No longer qual or quant, analogue or digital, artist or engineer, but all of them at once. The people who will take our business into the future will be Brazilian air force-type people.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service