Muhammad Raza Khan
Submitted to :
Asif H. Qureshi
Traditionally, courses that deal with computers and society issues focus primarily on enumerating the various ways in which computers impact society. This is done by listing categories of topics such as privacy, computers in medicine, military uses of computers, etc. Classic cases of computer abuse or errant systems are typically described in detail, as a way of simply making students more aware of how computers affect society. These examples are meant to serve as warnings to future professionals, in the hopes that they will practice their profession with greater care. What is missing from these discussions, however, is why computers have the impact they do on society. What are the characteristics that are the root of this impact? Are there fundamental differences between this technology and others that have transformed our world in the past? The intent of developing a list of these characteristics is that it could lead to a better understanding of the nature of the social impact of computers. In this way, it might be possible to examine a new computer project at the time of its design (not, as is the usual case, a long time after the project has been implemented and disseminated) to determine its potential impacts as a social change agent. The characteristics given below are not necessarily unique to computer technology. However, in many instances computers have created situations that were previously impossible to accomplish (such as space flight), were essentially inconceivable until the technology was applied, or at least were very difficult to achieve without the aid of computer technology. Furthermore, even though other technologies may have had impacts similar to computers in many ways, computer technology has greatly amplified their effects to the point of entirely overshadowing any previous technology's impact. Finally, the term computer technology is meant to be inclusive of any device that is essentially controlled by a basic computer (CPU, program, etc.). This would include, therefore, modern telephones, VCRs, microwave ovens, CAT scanners, supermarket scanners, and the like. The following are in no particular order. Also, some devices or examples are likely to fit into more than one of the categories below: (1) Ubiquity -
It is perhaps stating the obvious that computers appear to be everywhere today. Even when we don't encounter them directly in their various forms of modern convenience devices, such as digital watches, microwave ovens, VCRs, and the like, we generate transactions that are processed via computers without actively doing anything: the utility companies are recording our usage, the phone company records incoming calls, our answering machine might be recording a message while we are doing something else, someone is performing a credit check on us, etc. (2) Magnification -
Computers tend toward magnification in several different ways. First, the explosion of the availability of information is due in large part to the computer's ability to generate, collect, and store an ever increasing amount of raw data. Since the ability to create and collect data is growing exponentially, so too is the generation of information that can be synthesized from this data. Second, the types of negative impacts a single error can have has grown enormously with computer technology. Finally, the number of people directly affected by a system error has also grown enormously, to where a single software system literally can affect millions directly. (3) Accessibility -
Access to information continues to increase at hard to believe speeds. To begin with, the vast quantities of information available on-line (through, for instance, the Internet) appears to be growing exponentially. In addition, we now have unprecedented accessibility to information and communications from nearly anywhere we happen to be....