“Human Computers” and Hidden Figures

If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures yet, you really should. It’s a fantastic movie that was nominated for multiple Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The film is based on the the true stories of female African-American mathematicians working for NASA in the early years of the US space program when the US and the Soviet Union were racing each other to put a man in space.

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There are many intertwining layers that make the film so riveting, including:

  • The historical context of the early years of the NASA space race during the Cold War.

  • The many social injustices faced by these women on a daily basis.

  • The wonderful biographical narratives of each character.

  • The view of technological disruption simultaneously from macro-level geopolitical and micro-level personal perspectives.

What struck me as a technologist, however, was simply the fact that human beings used to have jobs doing mathematical calculations. They were even called “computers” because… well… they computed.

It should have been easier for me to imagine. Logically it makes sense that before there were machines called computers that human beings still needed to compute things, but with all the technology we now have, could you stomach launching a manned spacecraft using manual orbit and reentry calculations?

Human computers?

That does not compute.

Hidden Differences

It’s easy to look back (if we can tear ourselves away from our smartphones) to the 1960s and think about how strange it seems that a human being would sit at a desk all day churning out mathematical calculations. It might not be quite so easy, though, to look at our own organizations today and realize that the exact same technology disruption scenario is happening right before our very eyes, except this time it’s document proofreading instead of mathematics.

As a Regional Sales Manager for Schlafender Hase I talk with Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance professionals in the Life Sciences industry on a daily basis about their challenges with document version control, especially as it relates to labeling and FDA submissions.

Today, all over the world, there are human beings manually proofreading documents for version control purposes:

  • Source material in Word format against artwork in PDF format.

  • Source material in Word or PDF format against FDA submission documents in SPL (XML) format.

  • Source material in Word or PDF format against information on a company website in HTML format.

One day not too long from now we will all look back and wonder how human beings were stuck manually proofreading documents. All those highly educated employees spending their time staring at documents until the words start dancing around on the page. All those deviations missed because human beings are… well… human, and by definition imperfect. All those profit-draining, brand-damaging, morale-crushing labeling-related recalls that could have been avoided if we only had the technology to compare text accurately across file formats.


“One Day” Is Today

But we do have the technology.

The disruption is happening right now.

“One day” is today.

The era of humans manually proofreading for version control will soon be behind us. Software algorithms are faster, more accurate, and less expensive than manual proofreading.


  • In a small workgroup setting, one of our customers saved an average of 1.5 days per document comparison set.

  • In an enterprise setting, one of our customers went from experiencing seventeen labeling-related recalls in a single year to only one after implementing a solution that included our software.

What will your company do with all the money it doesn’t have to spend on labeling-related recalls? What will you do with all the time you don’t have to spend on manual proofreading and multiple correction cycles?

I’m sure you’ll think of something.


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