As I began to read Herbert Simon’s piece, I found myself looking at the bottom of the page for the date it was published: March 18, 1977. Given that this piece was about the impact of computers on society, I felt it was essential to keep the date in mind when reading it. After all, it could be tempting to dismiss the piece as a relic of the past. However, the further I read, the more I realized many of the issues Simon wrote about were still relevant to today.
One issue we are still grappling with is the effect computers have had on our privacy. Simon wrote:
“Making the computer the villain in the invasion of privacy or encroachment on civil liberties simply diverts attention from the real dangers. Computer data banks can and must be given the highest degree of protection from abuse. But we must be careful, also, that we do not employ such crude methods of protection as to deprive our society of important data it needs to understand its own social processes and to analyze its problems” (p. 74).
I agree with Simon here, and his words made me think immediately of Google. Yes, Google has access to a lot of our information – especially if we choose to use their services regularly –but perhaps we shouldn’t see this as such a threat. Part of what makes Google services convenient is their integration with other areas of our digital lives (i.e. the ability to easily and quickly email documents created in Google Docs through Gmail). Too often, we want to blame computers for invading our privacy when in fact, it is people who are doing the invading. I think we get so caught up in the negative aspects of a highly computerized culture that we forget just how much we have come to depend on their capabilities.
To some extent, I agree with Simon’s argument that computers are benign tools that increase productivity and help man solve many of life’s problems. When it comes to “man’s view of man” I’m one who tends to bemoan the idea of going to work and sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours straight, and I sometimes feel like I have less creativity or even direct control of my work because of its dependence on computer use. However, when I actually think about what I accomplish at work rather than just picturing myself in front of the screen, I don’t feel dehumanized at all, and I’m glad that I have the tools on the computer that I use. Sometimes I think it’s easy to get nostalgic and think that all work would be so much more human if we would do it without computers. However, is it any less dreary or taciturn to write countless letters of correspondence by hand rather than replying to a few dozen emails every day? I think not. While I still think that some less computer-centric work environments motivate and support more human interaction and perhaps thoughtfulness applied to one’s work, overall I’m convinced by Simon that computers are overall much more human-serving than human-obsolescing.
All that the computer has changed in our thinking and methods for accomplishing tasks. I wholeheartedly agree with Simon's argument of the mechanization and dehumanization of labor produced by the computer. His argument of the computer changing the way that man thinks of himself is also a concept that I fully agree with and am immensely intrigued by. Down to the way that we explain the mind and the body as a system and the thinking of nerves as circuits stem from the rise of the computer. The computer brought along with it a thought that man could solve the world through the computer. As is explained in the documentary "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace," the rise and trust in the computer brought along with it the creation of the science of the ecosystem. It was a belief that the complexity of nature could be paired down into something that a computer could understand and predict the future of. This school of thought is still being studied and believed in and is yet to be fully understood. The trust we enstill in computers fascinates me, and I wonder if we will ever move away from our technology, or just fall more in love with our technologies until they are entirely a part of ourselves.
Computers have changed so much about the way we live. It is truly amazing to think that a small change like the engine can have an effect on where and how we live many years down the road. So it’s scary to think about the massive effects that the computer will have, which is itself a major change of our society. It will have economic changes, social changes, but most importantly, it will change ourselves and the way we think of ourselves. I think the computer has only just started to make changes in our society. The capacity for their capabilities is almost only limited to what we can imagine. Often we can make things better than we imagine. The Star Trek series showed advanced handheld communication devices for their time, but today we have smartphones that can do more that the writers of Star Trek could ever have imagined. It could end up that we become integrated with the computer, and we become some sort of cyborg race, and as ridiculous as that sounds, I think it’s entirely possible.
While reading Simon's article, I found his perspective on the application and possibility of artificial intelligence interesting. He discusses the capabilities of computers to learn, which until he explained it in the way he did, I had never made the connection between how a computer program worked, and learning. After realizing this, it seems odd, that we don't consider the computers we have today as artificially intelligent, or at least societal-ly we don't. The roomba is a perfect example of an artificially intelligent device. It is able to learn the size of the room it is supposed to vacuum by running into the walls, it even learns where specific objects are that do not move. It then generates a pattern it deems the best for vacuuming the entire floor-space. The idea that we don't yet consider our devices seems to hint at a more profound difference between just learning and what artificial intelligence actually is. To me it seems like we, as a society, will only truly consider our devices artificially intelligent, once they have reach our decision making capabilities, and eventually surpass us, but then this begs the question of the singularity, and whether or not we will be able to control a device that is smart than us.
After reading Simon’s article, I think it’s really interesting how he made the connection between computers learning and humans learning. I never would have thought of computers gaining information in the same way that we do. Software and computer technology is constantly updated in order to learn from faults and provide users with the most up-to-date systems for providing information. It is interesting that humans can be compared to this as we do learn in the same way. We are always learning from our own faults and mistakes, and we too gain our information from outside sources around us. It’s also interesting that humans are using computers in order to gain that information needed to learn new things, and so humans and computers sort of rely on each other to operate at their maximum potential. Personally, I rely on the computer so much that I don’t know what I would do without it. I complete all of my school work on my laptop, which has internet access that I can use to gain more information for my work or simply just to gain more knowledge or read news stories. Computers are also very multifunctional, allowing me to store all of my photos, videos, and documents in one location for me to access at the same time.
I found the article to be a good read. I thought that the mechanization from computers parallelled with the previous changes in work that came about from other technological advancements were interesting. I have noticed that as new technologies come out, they usually alter or take jobs away from people. At first this may be a problem with many of these workers. This outrage usually subsides as society becomes more used to the change. I have noticed that the computerized technologies, as stated in the article, have not been blamed for the economic crisis.
When reading this article, what really stuck out to me was the line "It can, in fact, be programmed to behave flexibly, in complex ways, and not repetitively at all. We must either get rid of the connotations of the term, or stop calling computers "machines"." This quote stuck out to me because I think of the way we regard computers today-nothing at all like machines, rather we regard them as our friends and something we treasure, protect, and take care of. We can customize our computers and other technological devices to fit our personality. We invest in the devices themselves, and then invest in customizing them with personalized covers, cases, backgrounds, and wallpapers. We become so attached to our devices that we rarely refer to them as just a "machine", we call them by their name-macbook, PC, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. I also really like the part of the article when Simon talked about knowledge and technology. I am of the viewpoint that knowledge is power "to produce new outcomes, outcomes that were not previously attainable". I think knowledge is power in all aspects of life, including technology. I do not think we would be such a technologically advanced society if it were not for learning and studying history.
This article got me thinking about how I use computers in my life. When I started reading this article, I had to check the date. When the author stated that computers were used mostly for large-scale engineering projects or for keeping financial records of businesses, I knew this had to be a dated article. It's amazing the way we use computers today...for virtually everything. I do all of my homework on my computer, and I sit in front of a computer at work. On some days, I feel like my face never leaves a computer screen. I found the part about man's view of man to be very interesting. The author used the word dehumanize, which can be an accurate affect of computers on man. I could be at work all day, and not have to speak to anyone. Every single person in my office is sitting in a room together, but we are working on our separate computers. And now that we can literally take our computers anywhere, with the advent of smart phones and tablets, we really have to reason to talk to each other in person, except that I believe humans thrive off of social interaction.
I found Herbert's section on Control and Privacy quite interesting. I had expected him to blame the computer for taking away our privacy but instead he approached it much more practically. He stated that crimes such as those which took place during Watergate, among many others took place without the help of a computer.
When compiling so much data into one place, fears run high. But fraud existed before the internet, and before the compilation of personal data into a central network. By compiling all of this data we may in fact be able to safeguard it better than we had previously. It is easy to see a centralization of information as a vulnerability but it also provides the opportunity for better security. I believe Herbert summarized this best when he said "Making the computer the villain in the invasion of privacy or encroachment on civil liberties simply diverts attention from the real dangers" (74).
After reading the article, I am most struck with how middle of the road the author of the article was. In a way, I think Herbert Simon was limited by the time period he lived in when he wrote the article, not seeing the great revolution of the internet and how it has been drawn into our daily lives, but I also see how many of his predictions, that being that the computer is just one more tool like the television or telephone that we use; for the revolution and connection we have really is just an extension of those two mediums with an added part of creation involved in it. I found it interesting seeing the comparisons he brought up within his article, but I really felt as if it wasn't saying anything and that it wasn't really supposed to. I think it was meant as a counter to the science fiction and wild theories of the time, trying to keep people in check.
The idea that the computer is not a threat and doesn't dehumanize man in that it is just a long line of innovation to help with work is a strong one and one that I think we can still agree with today.
This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on April 3, 2013 3:57 PM.
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