In his wonderful new book The Checklist Manifesto (Metropolitan Books, 2009), surgeon and author Atul Gawande explains how successful surgery depends on the complex interactions of surgeons, nurses, anesthetists and other specialists, who must possess not only highly specialized skills but also the ability to work as a team in the face of rapidly arising challenges. The same applies to an airliner’s pilot, co-pilot and crew. Special tools such as checklists, decision trees and artificial intelligence built into instrumentation are key.
Information technology empowers complex group processes in striking new ways, but the breakthroughs are especially exciting in very low income settings. There mobile telephony and wireless broadband are ending the grinding isolation of rural communities and enabling workers–even those with fairly rudimentary training–to interconnect more successfully and to tap into expert systems and artificial intelligence.