Computers and SocietyThe decade of the 1980’s saw an explosion in computer technology andcomputer usage that deeply changed society. Today computers are a part ofeveryday life, they are in their simplest form a digital watch or more complexlycomputers manage power grids, telephone networks, and the money of the world. Henry Grunwald, former US ambassador to Austria best describes the computer’sfunctions, It enables the mind to ask questions, find answers, stockpileknowledge, and devise plans to move mountains, if not worlds. Society hasembraced the computer and accepted it for its many powers which can be used forbusiness, education, research, and warfare.
The first mechanical calculator, a system of moving beads called theabacus, was invented in Babylonia around 500 BC. The abacus provided the fastestmethod of calculating until 1642, when the French scientist Pascal invented acalculator made of wheels and cogs. The concept of the modern computer wasfirst outlined in 1833 by the British mathematician Charles Babbage. His designof an analytical engine contained all of the necessary components of a moderncomputer: input devices, a memory, a control unit, and output devices. Most ofthe actions of the analytical engine were to be done through the use of punchedcards. Even though Babbage worked on the analytical engine for nearly 40 years,he never actually made a working machine.
In 1889 Herman Hollerith, an American inventor, patented a calculatingmachine that counted, collated, and sorted information stored on punched cards. His machine was first used to help sort statistical information for the 1890United States census. In 1896 Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Companyto produce similar machines. In 1924, the company changed its name toInternational Business Machines Corporation.
IBM made punch-card officemachinery that dominated business until the late 1960s, when a new generation ofcomputers made the punch card machines obsolete. The first fully electronic computer used vacuum tubes, and was so secretthat its existence was not revealed until decades after it was built. Inventedby the English mathematician Alan Turing and in 1943, the Colossus was thecomputer that British cryptographers used to break secret German military codes. The first modern general-purpose electronic computer was ENIAC or the ElectronicNumerical Integrator and Calculator. Designed by two American engineers, JohnMauchly and Presper Eckert, Jr.
, ENIAC was first used at the University ofPennsylvania in 1946. The invention of the transistor in 1948 brought about a revolution incomputer development, vacuum tubes were replaced by small transistors thatgenerated little heat and functioned perfectly as switches. Another bigbreakthrough in computer miniaturization came in 1958, when Jack Kilby designedthe first integrated circuit. It was a wafer that included transistors,resistors, and capacitors the major components of electronic circuitry. Usingless expensive silicon chips, engineers succeeded in putting more and moreelectronic components on each chip. Another revolution in microchip technologyoccurred in 1971 when the American engineer Marcian Hoff combined the basicelements of a computer on one tiny silicon chip, which he called amicroprocessor.
This microprocessor the Intel 4004 and the hundreds ofvariations that followed are the dedicated computers that operate thousands ofmodern products and form the heart of almost every general-purpose electroniccomputer. By the mid-1970s, microchips and microprocessors had reduced the cost ofthe thousands of electronic components required in a computer. The firstaffordable desktop computer designed specifically for personal use was calledthe Altair 8800, first sold in 1974. In 1977 Tandy Corporation became the firstmajor electronics firm to produce a personal computer.
Soon afterward, acompany named Apple Computer, founded by Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs, beganproducing computers. IBM introduced its Personal Computer, or PC, in 1981, andas a result of competition from the makers of clones the price of personalcomputers fell drastically. Just recently Apple Computer allowed its computersto be cloned by competitors. During this long time of computer evolution, business has grasped at thecomputer, hoping to use it to increase productivity and minimize costs. Thecomputer has been put on assembly lines, controlling robots.
In officescomputers have popped up everywhere, sending information and allowing numbers toeasily be processed. Two key words that apply today are downsizing andproductivity. Companies hope the increase worker productivity, meaning lessworking which then allows for downsizing. The computer is supposed to be themagic wand that will make productivity shoot through the roof, but in some casesthe computer was a waste of time and money.
Reliance Insurance is an example of computer technology falling flat onits face, wasting a great deal of money, while producing little or no results. Paper Free in 1983 was the slogan Reliance used because the it had just spentmillions of dollars to put computers everywhere and network them. The employeeshad E-mail and other programs that where to eliminate paper and increaseproductivity. The company chiefs sat back and waited for a boom in productivitythat never arrived.
Other examples of the disappointments of computer are not hard to find. Citicorp bank lost $200 million dollars developing a system in the 1980’s thatgave up to the minute updates on oil prices. Knight-Ridder tried to develop ahome shopping network on the television, and lost $50 million. Wanglaboratories almost went under when they put all of their resources towarddeveloping imaging technology that no one wanted. Ben ; Jerry’s ice cream putin an E-mail system and out of 200 employees less than 30% used the system.
Everything attempted then is currently very common today; on-line servicesprovide stock and commodities quotes, QVC is a home shopping channel on cabletelevision, almost every picture in a magazine has been retouched with imagingtechnology, and even JRHS has an E-mail system that seems to be valuable. Other corporations have seized computer technology and used it to reducecosts, but usually the human factor is lost. The McDonalds fast food chain is anexample of a company that has embraced computers to help productivity and loweroperating costs. The McDonalds kitchen has become a computer timed machine, You don’t have to know how to cook, you don’t have to know how to think. There’s a procedure for everything and you just follow the procedure . Theworkers have in essence become robots controlled by the computer to achievemaximum productivity.
The computer knows the procedure and alerts the worker ofevents in the procedure and all the worker must do is execute what the beeper ofbuzzer means. With such little knowledge of the making of the food, workershave become disposable, It takes a special kind of person to be able to movebefore he can think. We find people like that and use them until they quit. .
McDonalds managers work even more closely with the computers thatcontrol them. The computer generates a graph of expected business and tells themanager how many people to schedule and when, all the manager does is fill inthe blanks with names. McDonalds computers also keep close track of sales andexpenditures, The central office can check . . .
how many Egg McMuffins weresold on Friday from 9 to 9:30 two weeks ago or two years ago, either in anentire store or at any particular register. . The main things computers doin a manual job is to speed things up, Thinking generally slows this operationdown. , and for this reason computers have made manual jobs ones of extrememonotony and no creativity. White collar jobs have remained virtually the same, computers have justhelped to enhance creativity and attempted to raise productivity. E-mail, wordprocessors, spreadsheets, and personal organization programs are widely used bywhite collar workers.
These programs help to make impressive presentations,communicate, and keep track of everything so the worker can get more done, andtherefore less workers are needed, dropping costs. This has not happened, overthe last 30 years white collar worker productivity has remained the same, whileblue collar productivity has almost quadrupled. This is due mainly to the factthat white collar workers are required to think and adapt to situations quickly,which computers at the moment are unable to due, they only follow code to give aplanned response. The blue collar job requires less knowledge and skill, and sois easily replaceable by a computer. Computers though have not been a failure in business, they allowinformation to be shared very quickly.
The home office is a product ofcomputers, people can work from home instead of going into an office. This hasnot become very popular due to the lack of touch between people, the loss ofcontact. It is the human factor that helps to make business run, the randomthought that saves the day, something a computer is incapable of doing. Computers may help quicken business, but they will never replace people, onlyreduce their knowledge or creativity by automating the process.
Another form of computers is attempting to totally eliminate people fromthe picture. Expert systems are large mainframe computers that have theknowledge of an expert individual loaded into it, and makes decisions that arevery complex. An expert in field is chosen and interviewed for sometimes over ayear about their job and how they make decisions. All of this knowledge isrefined and put into a computer. Another person then enters some statisticsinto the finished machine and magically a large printout will come out of themachine in minutes with the answers. Expert systems are used mainly in largeinvesting corporations, but some have been developed to help diagnose diseases.
The hope is one day a patient will lie down and a couple of sensors and probeswill go over the body and then a computer printout will have the name of yourillness and the drug to cure it. Expert systems have been used very littlemainly due to their high price and because of the lack of trust in them. Computers have also reached into other places besides business, schools. Children sit in front of computers and are drilled or taught about certainsubjects selected by the teacher. This method of teaching has come under fire,some people believe the computer should be a tool not a teacher, while othersbelieve why learn from a normal teacher when a computerized version of the bestcan teach.
The technology of today could allow for a teacher in another countryto teach a class through video confrencing. The attempts to spread computertechnology into the class room have produced results and taught lessons as tohow computers should be applied. The Belridge school district in McKittrick California was one of themost technological school districts in America. Every student had two computers,one at school and one at home, which contained many brand new teaching programs. The high school had a low powered television station that broadcasted every day.
The classes were small and parent involvement was high. Even with all of thesewonderful things one-third of the first grade class was below the nationalaverage in standardized tests after the first year. Parents were enraged thatafter all of the money spent nothing had happened, that the technology hadn’tmade the children become smarter, and so all of the computers were gone the nextyear and traditional teaching was put back in place. Belridge is an extreme example of people expecting the computers to domagic and make the children learn faster and better, much like companies hopedto raise productivity.
The children were left to learn from the computer, whichthey did, but nothing changed things actually got worse. One parent realized, . . .
good teachers are the heart and soul of teaching. , because computers canonly present facts and explain them to a certain extent, where as a good teachercan explain to the student in many ways. The US has about 2. 7 million computers for 100,000 schools, a ratio ofabout 1 computer for every 16 students.
Experts say that, Computers work bestwhen students are left with a goal to achieve. . . , and students are allowedto achieve this goal with proper direction from a teacher. After many attemptsin the 1980’s to put computers into the classroom a Presidential Plan was drawnup:1.
Give computers to teachers before students. 2. Move them out of the labs and into classrooms. 3. One workstation at least for every two or three students.
4. Still use flashcards for practice. 5. Give teachers time to restructure around computers. 6.
Expect to wait 5 to 6 years for change. This plan was to help guide the use of computers into the classroom, andmaximize their ability as learning tool. The computer will enhance the futureclassroom, but it cannot be expected to produce results quickly. One thing theuse of computers in the classroom will help with is the fear of computers andtheir ability to confuse people. Early exposure to computers will help increasecomputer use in society years from now.
The biggest network of connected computers is broadly referred to as theinternet, information superhighway or electronic highway. The internet wasstarted by the Pentagon as a way for the military to exchange informationthrough computers using modems. Over the years the internet has evolved into apublic resource containing limitless amounts of information. The main parts ofthe internet are FTP (file transfer protocol), gopher, telnet, IRC (internetrelay chat), and the world wide web. FTP is used to download large files fromone computer to another quickly.
Gopher is much like the world wide web, butwithout the graphical interface. Telnet is a remote computer login, this iswhere most of the hacking occurs. The IRC is just chat boards where people meetand type in there discussions, but IRC is becoming more involved with picturesof the people and 3-D landscapes. Besides IRC, these internet applications arebecoming obsolete due to the world wide web. The most popular of the internet applications is the world wide web orWWW. It is a very graphical interface which can be easily designed and is easyto navigate.
The WWW contains information on everything and anything possiblyimaginable. Movies, sound bytes, pictures, and other media is easily found onthe WWW. It has also turned into a business venture, most large businesses havea page on the WWW. A page is a section of the WWW that has its ownparticular address, usually a large business will have a server with many pageson it. A sample internet address would be http://www.
sony. com/index. html, thehttp stands for hypertext transfer protocol, or how the information will betransferred. www. sony.
com is the serve name, it is usually a mainframecomputer with a T-1 up to T-3 fiber optic telephone line. The server isexpensive not because of the computer but because of the telephone line, a T-1line which transfers up to 150 megabytes of information per second costs over$1000 a month, while a T-3 line transferring 450 megabytes of information cancost over $10,000 a month. The “index. html” is the name of the page on theserver, of which the server could have hundreds. The ability for all of this information has made for a virtual society. Virtual malls, virtual gambling, virtual identities, and even virtual sex havesprung up all over the internet wanting your credit card number or your FirstVirtual account number.
First Virtual is a banking system which allows so muchmoney to be deposited at a local bank to be spent on the internet. Much of theinternet has become a large mail order catalog. With all of these numbers andaccounts, questions come up about the security of a persons money and privatelife, which aren’t easily answered. Being safe is a new craze today, protection from hackers and otherpeople who will steal personal secrets and then rob someone blind, or protectionfrom pornography or white supremacists or millions of other things on theinternet. The recent communications bill that passed is supposed to banpornography on the internet, but the effects aren’t apparent.
There are stillmany US pages with pornography that have consent pages warning the user of thepornography ahead. Even if the US citizens stopped posting pornography, othernations still can and the newsgroups are also international. Programs such asSurf Watch and Internet Nanny have become popular, blocking out pornographicsites. The main problem or beauty of the internet is the lack of a controllingparty, It has no officers, it has no policy making board or other entity, ithas no rules or regulations and is not selective in terms of providing services.
. This is a society run by the masses that amounts to pure anarchy, nothing canbe controlled or stopped. The internet is so vast many things could be hiddenand known to only a few, for a long time if not forever. The real problem withcontrolling the interenet is self control and responsibility, don’t go and don’tsee what you don’t want to, and if that amounts to a boring time, then don’tsurf the net. When speaking of computers and the internet one person cannot gounmentioned, Bill Gates, the president of Microsoft.
Microsoft has a basicmonopoly on the computer world, they write the operating system and then theapplications to run of the system, and when everyone catches up, they change theversion. Bill Gates started the company in the early 1980’s with DOS, or DiskOperating System, which just recently was made obsolete by Windows 95. BillGates has now just ventured into the internet and is now tangling with Netscape,the company with the Internet monopoly. Netscape gives away its software forfree to people who want the basic version, but a version with all of the bellsand whistles can be purchased.
Microsoft is hard pressed to win the internetbattle, but will take a sizable chunk of Netscape business. Bill Gates willlikely keep running the software industry, with his recent purchase of Lotus, apopular spreadsheet, he further cornered the market. Computers are one of the most important items society posses today. Thecomputer will be deeply imbedded in peoples lives even more when the technologyprogresses more and more. Businesses will become heavily dependent as videoconfrencing and working from home become increasingly more feasible, sobusinesses will break down from large buildings into teams that communicateelectronically.
Schools may be taught by the best teachers possible andsoftware may replace teachers, but that is highly unlikely. The internet willreach into lives, offering an escape from reality and an information source thatis extremely vast. Hopefully society will further embrace the computer as atool, a tool that must be tended to and assisted, not left to do its work alone. Even so computers will always be present, because the dreams of today are madewith computers, planned on computers, and then assembled by computers, the onlything the computer can’t do is dream, at least right now.