Page images
PDF
EPUB

those who leave them to persuade industrial and commercial enterprises to use their services.

Then, too, much of the information which the federal government seeks to obtain, such as income and census information, although it involves an intrusion on privacy, involves a legitimate intrusion-one which is clearly necessary for the public good. And as long as it is kept narrow and segregated from other information about the same person, and as long as no individual is identifiable, the intrusion is acceptable. But one has the impression that some officials at least are not content with that situation. They participate in the expansion of the cognitive impulse—which in itself merits respect and which in our culture represents one of the noblest and practically most fruitful of human aspirations. Since the grounds for cognitive intrusion are so heterogeneous and so different in their legitimacy, it is all too easy to slip the illegitimate in alongside of the legitimate. The bien-pensants of the information explosion seem almost obtuse in their good intentions to add to knowledge, almost disarming in their innocent enthusiasm for a Data Center which could be exceeded only by the mind of God in the amount of information it contains.

VIII

This brings us to the last point of our reflections on privacy and power. The accumulation of knowledge by the central government is bound to arouse anxiety and to heighten distrust. A civil society such as America has begun to become requires mutual trust between rulers and ruled. In this country we have an inheritance of distrust of government which we have been slowly overcoming. The ruled wished to know all about the secret doings of government and were reluctant to allow the rulers to know about them. The balance began to change under the necessities of war and the threat of subversion. The citizenry became more willing—uncomfortably so but still willing—to allow the government to possess secret knowledge about the people themselves and about many other things. The present situation is delicately poised. The simultaneous dissatisfaction with the government for seeking to acquire and collate so much information made available to it by the ruled from within their private spheres, while at the same time not being sufficiently forthcoming with respect to the things about which it is believed the government knows, shows that the process of a unilateral concentration of knowledge about the private sphere of the ruled will not be easily borne.

It will generate distrust and resentment. It might also make people fearful that something will be done to them on the basis of what is known about the entirety of their lives. Especially in the face of an anonymous, information-gathering, privacy-infringing bureaucracy will this distrust grow. Without a bureaucracy which the ruled can trust, the present governmental system in America cannot operate effectively.

The press, titillated by the possibility of so much information about particular persons, will do all it can to right the unbalance between a fully perceived stratum of ruled and a stratum of rulers whose privacy is protected. Populistic disclosure of the private affairs of public figures-actual and aspirant—will become more comprehensive and thoroughgoing. If it is believed that some of this information comes from the Data Center, it will make the ruled even more uneasy, because they will feel that they too can be equally easily unveiled before the public eye. Of course, these will be only very vague appresensions but they will be none the less real for all that.

A civil society is not a society of complete mutual transparency or visibility. Everyone needs to be allowed to live somewhat in the shade—both rulers and ruled—in order to "keep" what“belongs” to them.

Intrusions on privacy are baneful because they interfere with an individual in his control of what belongs to him. The "social space” around an individual, the recollection of his past, his conversation, his body and its image, all belong to him. He does not acquire them through purchase or inheritance. He possesses them and is entitled to possess them by virtue of the charisma which is inherent in his existance as an individual soul—as we say nowadays, in his individuality—and which is inherent in his membership in the civil community. They belong to him by virtue of his humanity and civility-his membership in the human species and his membership in his own society. A society which claims to be both humane and civil is committed to their respect. When its practice departs from that respect for what belongs to the private sphere, it also departs to that degree from humanity and civility.

(Remarks by Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, Chairman, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission,

at a conference on "The University in a Changing Society," celebrating the centennial of Howard University, Washington, D.C., March 1, 1967) TIME, LEISURE, AND THE COMPUTER: THE CRISIS OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY

(Speech by Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg) Almost every time one picks up a newspaper, magazine or book these days one sees some statement about “the wonderful world of computers”—computers that perform the most complex calculations in a few seconds, computers that make up corporation payrolls and review a nation's tax returns, computers that diagnose diseases, computers that help design, produce and market new products, computers that control air and auto traffic and operate bakeries, computers that hire and fire, read and write, learn and teach, and even play cupid—though fortunately not yet to other computers, just among people.

What I have yet to come across in all my reading about computers—and what is most sorely needed—is an ultimate computer which will tell us where all other computers are leading us. Such a computer may someday be built and programmed. In the meantime this is one task still left to us human beings. And, unfortunately, I have been asked to discuss today some aspects of this incredibly difficult question.

Why is it incredibly difficult? Because the ultimate potential of the computer puts us to the test as human beings. It brings up questions we have lived with for centuries but never been asked to answer fully or act upon if we believed we knew the answers. It gives us new freedom and yet tremendous responsibilities which, if not acted upon, could result in a loss of almost all freedom. It presents us with choices and decisions of enormous consequences. It offers man a remarkable new chance to shape his own destiny, but asks him to be God-like enough to select that destiny without much margin for error.

All this from that quiet little box that seems to blink, click and hum so effortlessly and indifferently? Yes. All this from families of those little boxes whose appetites for information are so voracious and whose steady output is so prodigious ? Definitely yes.

I would not attempt, in the time allotted to me today-or for that matter in any time to discuss all the potential and consequences of the computer and the cybernated society. What I would like to do is sketch out a few possibilities of the computer, dwell on a larger, more total aspect of its potential uses and, finally, tie in its consequences with the role of the university.

To begin with, let me state that cybernation—the complete adaptation of computer-like equipment to industrial, economic and social activity—will represent a quantum jump in the extension of man. The Industrial Revolution amplified (and to a large extent replaced) man's muscle as a productive force. Less than one hundred years ago the greater percentage of our production resulted from the energies of man and beast. Today in the United States only a fraction of one percent of our productive power results from the physical energy of human beings or animals. Almost all of our products and services result from other energy sources converted to heat and mechanical power. And the amount of power produced per person annually in the United States has risen remarkably. In 1850, 440 horsepower hours per person were produced. In 1900 that figure more than doubled to 1,030. By 1950 it increased almost another five-fold to 4,470. And today it is approaching 10,000.

Springing from our Scientific Revolution of recent decades is what is being called our “Cybernetic Revolution." This revolution which, comparatively speaking, is only in its infancy today amplifies (and will to a large extent replace) man's nervous system. Actually, this is an understatement because computers amplify the collective intelligence of men—the intelligence of society-and while the effect of the sum of men's physical energies may be calculated, a totally different and compounded effect results from combining facts and ideas—the knowledge generated within a society or civilization. Add this effect to the productive capacity of the machine driven by an almost limitless energy source like the nucleus of the atom and the resulting system can perform feats almost staggering to our imagination. This is why I refer to cybernation as a quantum jump in our growth.

With the fullest development of cybernation we could be faced with prospects whic challenge our very relationships to such basic concepts as freedom and the nature of work and leisure.

Let me project a few random scenes from the coming Cybernetic Age which contain some significant implications. I will not vouch for the accuracy of these forecasts or try to predict the year they might occur, but perhaps you can imagine yourself in one of these three situations:

Situation one: You have flown out of town on a business trip and upon arrival at your destination have a few spare hours to visit an old friend. At the airport you rent a car, or some other type of ground vehicle. The procedure for putting you in the driver's seat is simple and efficient. You place an identifying card containing your bank account number and microformed photo of fingerprints in a slot and the fingers of your free hand over a flat innocent-looking plate. In a matter of seconds you have been identified as the owner of the card and your credit rating checked. The keys to your rented car are released to you and you are on your way. (Those keys, by the way, record your mileage and the time you use the car.)

Driving through town the traffic lights are controlled by computers which regulate their flow so that you encounter a minimum of delay at the busiest hour. But anxious to see your old friend, you step up your speed once you are on the outskirts of town, and without realizing it you exceed the speed limit by a few miles an hour. You remain unaware of this violation until you return home, at which time you receive a notice of it and learn that the violation calls for a fine which, you also learn, has already been charged to your bank account.

How did this happen? It was almost as simple as renting the car. An inconspicuous device clocked your speed and recorded your auto tags. It reported the violation to the owner of the vehicle whose own computer had your records at hand and instantly "turned you in.” The computer operated by the long arm of the law had no difficulty in tracking down both you and your bank account, so justice was swift and complete. (To add insult to injury, you had difficulty explaining to your wife why you needed to rent the car because she would not have believed your story about visiting "an old friend.")

You are fairly well-conditioned to this sort of situation by now, but sometimes you have moments of doubt and anxiety about what happened. If someone, or something, was watching you that closely on the road, where else might they be watching you? What if the system was in error-if someone, somewhere, was "adjusting" it so as to create more violators and bring in a little more revenue? But paying the fine was far easier than trying to investigate that possibility so you give up what you once considered a legitimate right. Furthermore, you've heard that next year they're installing systems which will automatically regulate your speed on those roads, so you won't have to worry about exceeding the limit. You don't have that worry-or choice.

I will not belabor the implications in this situation. I believe they speak for themselves. Let me move on to situation number two:

For several days you have not been feeling well and you call your local health .center for an appointment. You can remember when you used to call your doctor, but it's been many years since he's bothered with initial diagnoses and he would be the first to admit he could not be as thorough or accurate as the health center.

At the center you give all the necessary information to a medical secretary whose typewriter feeds it into a computer system. First comes your identification number which automatically supplies the system with your previous medical history, then all your new complaints and symptoms. On the basis of the information given so far and a comparison with your previous history the computer may venture an immediate diagnosis, but if it has any doubts-and it is a highly conservative computer-it recommends one or several diagnostic tests. The tests are -conducted simply and efficiently with the aid of one or two capable medical tech-nicians and a battery of equipment. The technicians would be capable of conducting routine eye, ear, nose and throat examinations. Tests beyond that might involve rapid chemical analysis of body fluids, accurate electronic tests of various reflexes, the heart or metabolism. The functions of several organs might be checked out with the use of radioisotope tracers and scanning and counting equipment. The digestive system might be examined by the swallowing of a tiny capsule containing a radiotransmitter which, as it travels the length of your digestive tract, broadcasts its "inside information" to an attentive analyzer.

The battery of diagnostic equipment programs its findings into the central computer which already has your previous medical history and your current complaints. In a matter of seconds, after the tests are completed, the system presents its full diagnosis. At the same time it also makes recommendation for treatment, perhaps printing out a prescription which can be filled before you leave the center.

Fortunately, in your case only medication was recommended, and you go home not only with the proper medication but confident that your case was given the best medical attention, even though you never saw a doctor during the entire visit. The health center efficiently adds the day's information to your medical history and sends your doctor a copy just for the record. By the way, you do get to see your doctor-on the weekend when you play bridge with him.

Does your doctor ever see any patients? The computer recommends a few cases to him because of their unusual interest. The high level of medicine he practices now enables him to help these patients. Their cases also help him in his work with engineers to design newer and better diagnostic and treatment systems and to train the many medical technicians who are needed to handle the increased population.

As in the first situation, there are a multitude of implications in this projection which I cannot go into now. Some of them I will return to later, but for the moment let me proceed to situation number three:

You are a key man in a company that produces certain home products. You feel quite fortunate because you have a creative job in a highly automated plant. Market surveys analyzed by computers tell the company of the need for a new product. You sit at a desk containing a large fluorescent screen and with an electronic “lightpen" draw your conception of the new product. As you design the product you "tell” the computerized screen the materials you want the product to be made of. The system coordinates the information you fed it from the lightpen and your other instructions. As you work, it guides you in your design by making recommendations, by showing you on command the stress and strain in various points of your design, by correcting your errors, by recommending alternatives and improvements.

When both you and the system are satisfied with your handiwork, you release the design for manufacture. The system has theoretically tested the product so that no initial sample or test model is necessary. It turns the design over to another department-probably other computers—which calculates and orders the materials necessary to produce it, sets up the required manufacturing equipment and prepares the production schedule. You never see the product, but you know it has been turned out just the way you envisioned it. Furthermore, you know it will never become a glut on the market because the extent of the de mand for it has been very accurately predicted. You once did have a yearning to see and handle what you created, so you went out and bought one. As you examined it, you remembered just what parts of it were really yours and what parts the computer had recommended, and you had an uneasy feeling. Could you have made it so well, so quickly, and so cheaply, without the computer? And how long will it be before the computer will make it without you?

To some people these three examples sound like science fiction. Others will refer to them as "windy futurism.” But they are far from being either. Some of the devices and methods mentioned are already in existence and in practical use. Others are in the development stages. And many more are not only technically feasible but may someday become economically and socially acceptable.

Now what are some of the implications in these examples and what bearing will they have on our future? Running through all three examples were many common features: depersonalization, a separation of man and product, a col. lapse of time, a further reduction of human work and a shift of needs and skills. All of these offer both threats and promises. I believe that the promises will eventually override the threats but not before they have made us face and solve a great many problems we have not had to face before. This in itself is. going to account for a great deal of human growth. For the next few minutes let's not think of the computer and the individual, let's think big-about science and technology in general and the world at large. And if at times I project a viewpoint too futuristic or utopian for many of you, I do so because I think it is worthwhile for us to extend our thinking into many areas we often hesitate to explore in depth.

As Lancelot Law Whyte has stated in his book The Next Development in Man. “Thought is born of failure.” To a great extent we have always been propelled by a series of crises which we have had to face and overcome. Today the rapid growth of science and technology has created some crises of monumental proportions through the power it has given us over destructive and constructive

forces, through our influence on nature and through the control of human life. But that same science and technology is placing at our disposal the knowledge and the tools to change impending disaster into triumph. What is lacking now, but hopefully will not be lacking for long, is the fuller understanding of these forces and the social will necessary to shape them into the kind of life and world we want. We must control the complex and interacting forces we have created rather than letting them propel us from crisis to crisis as we slavishly go about the business of the day tending to what we blindly call “our own affairs."

This crisis-to-crisis approach in handling our affairs springs from a problem which has always plagued man—the gap between knowledge and action. These days, as in the past, we either act on the basis of too little knowledge or understanding, or having the scientific and technical knowledge to accomplish something worthwhile, are hamstrung by outmoded cultural, social or political thinking. Today this double-edged disparity is more threatening than ever because knowledge, and hence power, is so much greater--as are our needs for it—that every miscalculation in the type or scope of actions brings wider disruption in our society. Our civilization is now such a complex and organically interdependent system that almost every change reverberates through it causing displacement and further change, sometimes where we least expect it.

But today science and technology have given us a tool which, in addition to its added power, should help us to better understand and work with the many complex forces we have created and put to work. That tool, of course, is the computer. And many believe that, while it will create many new problems we will have to cope with, it is going to give us the fuller understanding we need to shape a new and better world-one which we have been trying to build but in a random, rather than organized, way. Cybernation now promises to give us the giant brain to go with the mighty muscles that evolved from our Industrial and Scientific Revolutions. In doing so it is going to help plan our progress around social goals. And it is going to force us to do more than pay lip service to these goals. To explain why this is so, let me return to some specific areas of concern about the computer.

Perhaps we should begin with the greatest area of concern involving computers today-employment and production.

Much has been written, and many studies have been made, about the effects of automation on employment. The consensus of conclusions is that, to date, while many jobs have been eliminated by automation it has not affected total employment. It has helped expand the economy, more new jobs have been created, and therefore employment remains relatively high. But the shift to new jobs, the required upgrading of skills, probably cannot be continued indefinitely to maintain a high level of fulltime employment. And those who look a little deeper and a little further see that the automation of today and of the past decade, on which most studies are based. cannot be compared with the cybernation beginning to take place now and projected for the fture. A few statistics will bear this out:

The first commercial computer (the UNIVAC) was delivered to the U.S. Bureau of Census in 1950. Today there are some 27,000 computers at work in the U.S. and about another 10,000 around the world, most of these having been installed and operated only in recent years. (Before that computer was used by the Census Bureau, by the way, they required over 400 statisticians to do one job now handled by less than a dozen people.) International sales of computers today are growing at a rate of about 20% per year, substantially greater than the next most booming worldwide business, the sale of autos, growing at 7%. It has been estimated that in the U.S. alone there will be over 50,000 computers installed by 1970, and, on the basis of present trends, possibly 150,000 to 200,000 by 1985.

In addition to their growth in number, these computers are being greatly improved. They are faster, more compact, more flexible and becoming cheaper. Where organizations still cannot afford to buy or rent them, they can now share many of their services. With such computers coming into use, capable of fully automating industries from steel mills to bakeries, operating services from traffic control to banking, it is both shortsighted and foolish to believe that radical changes, not only in employment and productivity but in the very nature of work and the goals of society, will not take place within the coming decades.

The changes which have been taking place in the shifting nature of human work since the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions will soon begin to multiply tremendously. Just as power machinery replaced backbreaking human toil on

« PreviousContinue »