A half century ago, when people tried to imagine a future full of computers, I’m sure one of the most obvious predictions they made is that we today wouldn’t have to work so hard to fill out forms. Filling out forms seemed then to be a very mechanical task, based on explicit mechanical rules. So once computers had enough space to store the relevant data, and enough computing power to execute those rules, we should not longer need to fill out most tedious parts of forms.
One form that I keep having to fill out over and over these days is a job application... It's generally the same info but different employers all have their own web applications. Many of them automatically parse my resume, but it's still a pain in the neck. Some postings on job boards just let me apply with a resume and profile stored by the job board, though.
Scott Alexander said something similar about bureaucracy in medicine here: https://slatestarcodex.com/...
There is plenty of tax software that does exactly this with your information. You give it all your information, scan in the relevant forms, and it figures out everything about what goes on your taxes, and what deductibles you are eligible for. It would be easy for the information to be stored locally on a person's computer or cell phone rather than on the network server in such a way that the company could never gain access to the information being input. But I would expect software for benefits to be harder to make and less popular than tax software. I think an issue here is that as forms get easier and easier to fill out, it gets easier and easier for companies to require more information on the forms. I wonder about the incentives there; maybe it's in an organization's best interests to require a certain level of difficulty with paperwork to minimize fraud or low quality work. The same would apply for bureaucrats and politicians. Data entry and data cleaning jobs are not going away any time soon.
Your hypothesis isn't crazy, but even so i want to hear more about more details that it explains better than other hypotheses.
So why doesn’t some tech company offer a form app, where you give all your personal info to the form and it fills out most parts of most forms for you?I suspect that one common problem is that people don't understand what information is requested, where they can obtain that information and how it should be processed/interpreted to fill the form out correctly.
It's probably pretty hard to explain it to them in text. It might already be hard to explain it face to face, after figuring out in which they terms they understand the world, so you can translate it into those terms. You may think the term 'after tax salary' is something simple to understand, but it's easy to overestimate what other people understand and whether they can find it in their reports.
In addition to what's already been said, I think there could be a risk diversification effect. If all of our information is stored in one place, that would expose everyone to a potentially very costly data breach. But if our data is scattered across multiple companies and platforms, that reduces the cost of from a single breach. And maybe that's worth the inconvenience of having to fill out yet another form every once in a while.
It's a feature not a bug.
As some of the other commenters have hinted, filling out forms is not really about filling out forms. It's about shifting inefficiency.
Forms often ask for information that's not needed and information that the asker already has. They often serve as a barrier to completing the task. This appears to be somewhat intentional with, for example, forms for government benefits: the point of the forms *is* that they are inefficient and will cause some people who not get benefits, thus reducing the amount to be paid out. Similarly in businesses with complicated processes, the forms serve to make sure only buying and selling that the organization really cares about happens (you might want to limit selling if, for example, there are high fixed costs for your service, but they are not priced in correctly, so they get "priced in" via a complicated procurement process that will make sales people who work on commission think twice before they do all the paperwork for a small reward). Yes, the world would perhaps be better without these inefficiencies, but they exist to serve a purpose because of other dysfunctional actors who need to ensure covert inefficiency remains somewhere.
When forms are enough of a hinderance they don't exist or are minimized. I work in the world of Software as a Service and there vendors do everything they can to minimize the "friction" to signup and activation to prevent prospects who would buy from dropping out of the conversion funnel. Most SaaS companies are happy to provide you a service after only collecting the minimum amount of information needed to complete billing, and even that is often outsourced to another provider who likely already has your information, so you just sign in to the payment provider, say yes I want to pay, and the rest is taken care of, no forms needed.
Combined these suggest forms exist and are not solved in some places because they are covertly serving to prevent unwanted efficiency, and they don't exist in places where efficiency is valued highly enough.
There has to be a means for someone to actually make a profit by doing this. Just because it would be nice isn't good enough.
And medical forms: providers typically say something like, "Your appointment is for 2:00 PM; new patients please arrive 30 minutes early, and existing patients 15 minutes early, to complete paperwork." I'm guessing that automating these forms would be technically easy but hard with respect to government regulation.
Human bias may be higher than corporate bias. Many humans (even in expensive cities) are willing to wait in line for 30 minutes to save a dollar. In contrast, a corporation is more likely to know the exact cost of the employees time and to be willing to spend money to save employee time (the willingness to spend is the less biased part).
I think about this when renting a car. Sign here and here and initial here and sign here. It takes much longer than it seems like it could. You can avoid it be joining a club but still.
Lastpass and other password management apps include exactly such a feature. Ad hoc forms for Credit cards and addresses are usually pretty good, passport or driver's license number fields are hit and miss because they're so rare there's no standard way web and app designers should tag those fields. However, if there's a specific form I have to fill out often I can specific responses on a field by field basis and save it for later use.
Much bureaucracy seems to be mostly about ritual abasement to power. This is particularly noticeable when the power differential is at its greatest, such as a poor person petitioning the state for assistance. The inconvenience always was the point of the exercise, the appearance of computers just removed some plausible deniability.
Big business can get away with streamlining the process because it's a major center of power and is deferred to rather than deferring. For lowly commoners perhaps some alternative method of humiliation could be worked out, eg. letting a bureaucrat sleep with your wife on her wedding night.
So why doesn’t some tech company offer a form app, where you give all your personal info to the form and it fills out most parts of most forms for you?Maybe because it is an ugly problem. In the database world, data integration techniques such as data cleansing and master data management (MDM) are unexpectedly complex and messy. The same issues apply to forms but with an extra layer needed to interpret the presentation layer format (e.g. PDF).
If I was tasked to do it I'd start with the primitive data types and complex types defined by schema.org and build upon that. Trying to gain traction in the market is the main obstacle. It is probably an easier problem than what Stripe did with online payments but there is not an obvious revenue model, as far as I can see, to make the effort worth the effort/risk.
Maybe because forms are not standardized, so it's difficult for a single app to recognize that "What is your e-mail" and "Write your e-mail here" are the same question. And it'd work out quite badly if a form was filled out wrong, like the program put your name in the e-mail box or your phone number is the street address box.
I do find the auto-fill from Google does actually work quite well for the very common examples I just listed like name, email, phone, etc., myself but for rarer questions like SSN or driver's license number nothing pops up. Maybe because those are more different between countries too.
I don't think this is the sort of software any innovating programmer could create and spread. It sounds like it'd have to be a more thorough project by a company like Google or Facebook, and ideally they'd also create a standardized form for form-askers like the DMV or Reddit or whatever to use for users.