Notebook

Melissa Kite: Computers are deciding your future

Our possibilities are computerised, our hopes and dreams are computerised … (AP)

“Let me get this straight,” I said to the mortgage broker. “In order to borrow less, I have to earn more?” That was, she confirmed, the gist of what she was saying. She was apologetic but the bottom line was immovable.

The lenders, those invisible men and women in grey suits in a boardroom somewhere, will not readily agree to give me another mortgage if I move. This is because a lot has changed since the last time I applied, which was a long time ago, back in the days when mortgages were easy to get.

Nowadays, one has to be able to prove, with a degree of certainty akin to the sun coming up tomorrow, that one will always earn the same or more as one earns now. As such, the paperwork the lenders want has become so elaborate that requests for the paperwork are generating almost as much paperwork as the paperwork itself.

You know you are in trouble when you have to make lists about lists, and such is the situation I now find myself in.

If I could work out what these bits of paperwork were I would be a lot happier. But they are called by a series of letters and numbers, and no matter how many times the broker and the accountant explain what they are my, brain won’t take it in. I have taken to calling them “SA30-thingy” and “E10-whojamaflip”. The broker and the accountant are getting exasperated.

But the thing I find the most infuriating, not to mention immoral, is the fact that the system appears completely happy with me continuing to borrow a substantial amount of money, but is utterly resistant to, and obstructive of, my requests to borrow a much smaller amount.

Telling the various companies who control all the world’s spare money that you are currently paying twice the amount you want to borrow from them, once you have sold up and moved, and have never missed a payment, and as such all logic would seem to dictate that borrowing half that, with a huge amount of equity-to-loan-value on the new place, will not land them in any undue risk, doesn’t cut the mustard.

What they want is an SA30-thingy and a E10-whojamaflip, both of which, so far as I can tell, pertain to something else entirely.

The problem is, if you cannot produce bits of paper with coded titles the computer says no. Of course it does.

Our lives are computerised, we know this. But that means that our possibilities are computerised, our hopes and dreams are computerised, our futures are computerised.

I do wish we could get back to a situation where one asked for something and somebody who existed in human format looked at one’s request and used their mortal brainpower and the balance of earthly probabilities to work out whether one could have it or not.

A few weeks ago I registered at a new GP surgery (after my previous surgery had shut down) and was handed a wad of forms to fill in.

Only the first page was anything to do with information the surgery actually needed, such as my address and NHS number. The rest constituted a computerised multiple-choice risk assessment quiz, which appeared hell-bent on getting every patient who filled it in to admit to being a hopeless alcoholic.

It included several trick questions, including: “Do you find it hard to predict what will happen when you drink? If the answer is yes, continue to next question. If no, go to question 3.” Whereupon question 3 asked: “Do you feel you are in denial about your drinking?”

And so on. None of the questions offered a way of answering that would let you enter the fact that you were a light drinker, a normal drinker or indeed someone who drank no alcohol at all. For example: “Do you drink a) too much b) to black-out c) until you fall over or d) you can’t remember, but you suspect you murdered someone during a night out last week.”

After about three pages of this, I lost patience and scrawled in huge letters “I am teetotal.” This is the truth. And I cannot be the only one. After all, there must be thousands of Muslims in my neck of the south London woods who are as abstemious as I am and who find it even more baffling, not to mention insulting, that they are being forced to admit a vice they don’t have. But the computer will have its way.

And the fact that all this computerisation doesn’t work doesn’t seem to bother the men and women in grey suits who are in control of it. If indeed they are even there at all.