Page images
PDF
EPUB

During the Washington subcommittee hearing, witnesses suggested that records covering a juvenile misdemeanor might be fed into a computer and then follow the offender for the rest of his life, interfering with ability to get and hold a job.

Mr. Johnson said this would be impossible under California law, which requires eradication from the records of details about rehabilitated juvenile offenders after a specific period.

"Whatever rules are maintained now in this connection will be maintained under the new system,” Mr. Johnson said. "If it were decided to put the information into the computer it could only be entered and retrieved by those directly concerned."

“If you ask," he went on, “ 'would it remain there forever?,' the answer is ‘absolutely not. It would in many respects be harder to get at, while it was there, than it is now, for it would require technical knowledge of how to get at the computer records."

"Juvenile records,” he stressed, "are completely confidential and only used in line of correctional and preventive police work. California law takes the position that anybody can make a mistake."

Mr. Johnson said that there remained questions about whether such data as venereal disease records would be added to the personal dossiers.

If the decision were yes, he asserted, “complete confidentiality” would be the rule as in juvenile matters. “There won't be a dossier of every little fact about a Santa Clara resident,” he said.

“This is no big brother system,” Mr. Sorensen said. “It is a way of maintaining more efficient records. You can distort and misuse information but you can do it now."

This is the way the computer would work :

Confidential information protected by law would be fed into it, along with open, public data. But the only access to the data would be through any one of about 100 teleprocessing units manned by trained operators.

When a county department asks for data to which it was not legally entitled, the computer, according to the officials, would say the data were not available.

"Welfare Department information,” Mr. Sorensen related, “is protected by law, as are juvenile records, and records of the Health Department, especially in the venereal disease category."

"Suppose a sheriff's deputy arrests a man he is pretty sure is a relief recipient,” Mr. Sorensen continued. He wants full data. The teleprocessor at the sheriff's office sits down at the unit and asks for the information. But the computer slaps the sheriff down. He is told it is not available.”

Socal workers in Santa Clara County were among those who had reservations about the availability of broad access to the names of clients."

“These fears have somewhat abated,” Frederick B. Gillette, County Welfare Director, reported.

Karl Sheel of the data processing division, who is sometimes called "the father of the Santa Clara system,” said that persons who were concerned about an "invasion of privacy” were "the higher educated people—you might call them dreamers."

Mr. Sheel said there was no reason to fear anything “if you have no arrests, no outstanding warrants against you or if you're not on welfare or if you've stayed out of the clutches of adult probation."

[From the New York Times, Aug. 9, 1966)

To PRESERVE PRIVACY

Can personal privacy survive the ceaseless advances of the technological juggernaut? Many in public and private life now fear to use telephones for conversations they would keep confidential, while the variety of electronic "bugs” available to eavesdrop on even whispered communications staggers the imagination. And young lovers would be well-advised to remember that the skies are increasingly full of sputniks equipped with cameras capable of taking extraordinarily detailed pictures of what transpires under the moon as well as on it. George Orwell foresaw the logical end of this trend in a device that would enable “Big Brother” to keep an eye on everyone anywhere.

[blocks in formation]

The Orwellian nightmare would be brought very close indeed if Congress permits the proposed computer National Data Center to come into being. We already live with the fact that from birth to grave Federal agencies keep tabs on each of us, recording our individual puny existence, monitoring our incomes and claimed deductions, noting when we are employed or jobless, and--through the F.B.I. and similar agencies-keeping all too close watch on what we think or say, what we read and what organizations we belong to.

If this situation is still somewhat tolerable, it is because each agency keeps .separate files and it takes some considerable effort to find and bring together all that is known about a particular individual. What is now proposed is the amalga.mation of these files, and the creation of a situation in which the push of a button 'would promptly dredge up all that is known about anyone.

Understandably, this idea has brought vigorous protest, in which we join. Aside from the opportunities for blackmail and from the likelihood that the record of any single past transgression might damage one for life, this proposed device would approach the effective end of privacy. Those Government officials who insist that the all-knowing computer could be provided with safeguards against unauthorized access are no doubt of the same breed as their brethren who “guaranteed” that last November's Northeast electric blackout could never occur. Eve the Swiss banks have learned to their own and their clients' sorrow that the device of numbered accounts is inadequate to frustrate determined would-be blackmailers.

Perhaps in the longrun the fight to preserve privacy is a vain one. But, like the struggle to preserve life, it must be continued while any shred of privacy remains.

SHAPE OF THE FUTURE: COMPUTERS WILL BRING PROBLEMS ALONG WITH THEIR

MANY BENEFITS—MISUSE OF DATA ON INDIVIDUALS FEARED; SCHOOLS, MEDICINE AND BUSINESS STAND TO GAIN_ALCOHOLISM AND AUTOMATION

(By Stanley Penn) (NOTE.—Men have always speculated avidly about the future, both for fun and for more practical reasons. Wall Street Journal reporters have talked to experts in many fields to get the best-informed opinions on probable d'evelopments between now and the year 2000. This is one of a series of articles based on their answers--all of which of necessity are premised on the assumption that the earth will not be incinerated in a nuclear holocaust during the next generation.)

It's 1980. A motorist is barreling along an eight-lane freeway. Traffic is light, so he nudges his car five, ten, then twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. No police car with flashing light and screaming siren appears on his tail, and he arrives at his destination without a care in the world.

The next day he is notified by the police that his car was involved in a speeding violation and that whoever was driving is due in court. The infraction had been observed by an electronic device that measured the car's speed, noted the license number and flashed the information to a police computer. The computer plucked the name and address of the license-plate holder from its memory and printed it out, along with details of the offense.

Certainly this is fast, efficient law enforcement-and entirely within the realm of technical feasibility. But the prospect of being nabbed by an all-knowing assemblage of transistors and circuitry has disturbing aspects for some people. Their doubts about computerized cops suggest something of a general mood of ambivalence often found among those who have pondered the role of the computer over the next few decades.

Without question, computers will bring many benefits. They will increase factory and office productivity. They will signal new economic trends more quickly. They will store vast amounts of information about law, medicine, science and other fields, with instant access to any bit of needed data available to thousands of widely scattered persons via teletypewriter links. They will serve as invaluable educational tools, and they will permit lightning solution of scientific and technical problems that for all practical purposes would be insoluble otherwise. In all these areas, computers will become easier to use; in the works are machines that could even follow spoken instructions.

[From the Wall Street Journal, Dec. 20, 1966]

A SOURCE OF FRUSTRATION

On the negative side is the prospect of an extension of the impersonalization that often seems to accompany the introduction of computers. The sort of frustrations already encountered by a customer who feels he has been incorrectly billed by a store with computerized bookkeeping could become commonplace in other areas of life. How, for example, do you explain a police computer that you were speeding because a passenger was suddenly taken ill and needed immediate attention?

Impersonalization caused by computers could also ruin some jobs, a number of observers assert. Dean Champion, a University of Tennessee sociologist, recently went so far as to forecast that many employes of computer-run plants, where a worker frequently will find himself assigned to an isolated station with the task of watching automated machines, will be driven to alcoholism. He reasons that the lone worker will miss the companionship of laboring alongside others on the assembly line and consequently will spend more leisure hours in bars.

Then there is the privacy issue. Already considerable amounts of information on individuals—their incomes, credit ratings, bank balances and tax paymentshave accumulated in business and government computer systems. Now moves are afoot to speed this trend. A Federal commission has proposed a nationwide employment service that would use a computer to store information on job openings and on detailed characteristics of job seekers. The Budget Bureau is considering a computerized national data center that would collect information on millions of Americans from the Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service and other U.S. agencies.

Such data storehouses obviously would offer advantages; in particular, the computerized employment service-viewed as a certainty by the 1980s—might cut jobless rolls. But critics fear officials might be tempted to pry too deeply into personal matters or to use information improperly. For such reasons, Rep. Cornelius F. Gallagher, a New Jersey Democrat, who heads a House subcommittee that has been looking into the question of Federal invasion of privacy, finds the proposal for a national data center “appalling."

"We cannot be certain that such dossiers would always be used by benevolent people for benevolent purposes," warns the Congressman.

Concern about possible harmful effects of computers on society clearly is not going to stop their use from steadily widening. But it could at least lead to some legal curbs on the ways they can be used.

For example, Charles A. Reich, a Yale University professor of Constitutional law, urges several safeguards for individuals if the national data center is established. Among them would be rules prohibiting the Government from asking certain questions, such as a man's religious beliefs; restricting information to the agency that originally obtained it; and giving a person the right to know what information has been supplied about him and its source, plus the opportunity to rebut inaccurate data.

Computers are multiplying at a rapid rate. There were fewer than 1,000 in the U.S. in 1956. Now over 30,000 are in operation. Radio Corp. of America, which makes computers, predicts the total will reach 85,000 by 1975 and 150,000 by 1985. By the turn of the century, there will be 220,000 computers in the U.S., RCA forecasts.

Computers' great advantage over human brains or simple calculating machines lies in their enormous capacity for storage of information and in their ability to process masses of data at speeds measured in billionths of a second. Almost any sort of information, whether expressed in numbers or words, can be converted into coded electric pulses and fed into a computer. The computer stores the pulses on magnetic cores or other devices.

In response to highly detailed sets of instructions, known as programs, the computer draws specific bits of information from its memory and manipulates them in almost any way desired, whether the aim is to total a department store customer's charges over a month or to pinpoint a spacecraft's splashdown zone. The results, either in numbers or words, can be printed out or displayed on a screen. They can also be converted into electrical pulses that directly activate machinery.

One key to increasing applications for computers is simplification of the methods for feeding data and processing instruction into a computer. At present, data is almost invariably put onto punched cards, punched paper tape or magnetic tape. Instructions must be written in special computer language. Thus, translating material into forms a computer can handle requires considerable training.

Efforts are under way now to come up with equipment that will enable anyone to “talk” to a computer, with little or no special training. To this end, several new types of "input” devices are being introduced or are under development.

PHONING THE COMPUTER

One relatively new input device is a typewriter-like console with which a computer user can simply type information into a computer. Another recent development is the use of push-button telephones to feed data into a computer over telephone lines. For auto designers and others who work with visual representations, computer technologists have devised a system for drawing with a "light pen” on a screen that looks like a television set; lines traced on the screen can be converted to mathematical formulas and stored in the computer's memory.

Optical scanning, or reading, machines that can translate a few styles of print into electrical pulses a compute can understand are already in use. Utilities use them, for example, to transfer data from bill stubs into a computer.

On the horizon are scanning machines that will be able to read any kind of printing and even legible script. These are expected to give computers the capability for almost instantaneous language translation-a capability that scientists and others who must keep abreast of foreign publications would find invaluable. Perhaps by the late 1970s input devices that can understand the human voice will be ready.

Paralleling the improvement of input equipment will be a switch to ordinary language for computer programs. Some computer men say that within 10 years it will be possible to write many programs in everyday English. Such a development will enable programers to write instructions faster, thereby increasing their productivity and making more types of programs available. It also will mean that a researcher or businessman won't have to learn a complex jargon or go through an intermediary to communicate with a computer.

COSTS DECLINE

Besides becoming easier to use, computers are getting cheaper. In 1957 it cost $130 a month to lease a computer with enough capacity to store one million characters (a character is a single number or letter.) The same storage capacity now costs $8.75 a month to rent. Some computer men see a monthly charge of 10 cents by the 1980s.

Computers also are becoming more compact as miniaturization of components progresses. This trend means that computers that once filled rooms can now be placed atop desks or aboard spacecraft. The storage section of one average-sized model of the early 1950s filled 153 cubic feet. Now the same amount of information can be squeezed into 3.3 cubic feet. New developments in circuitry are expected to reduce this to less than one cubic foot by the 1980s.

Despite the trend to compactness and lower costs, it's unlikely everyone will have his own computer any time soon. Instead, the prospect is for various types of computer networks, with central computers linked to many terminals by cable or microwave.

The growth of “time-sharing" computer networks is a certainty, say the experts. Much like the electric power station feeding electricity to thousands of customers, time-sharing computers will be connected to teletypewriters or TVlike display panels in factories, offices, schools and perhaps even homes. The users will be charged for computer services just as they are now billed by electric utilities.

GE'S NETWORK General Electric Co. already has set up a time-sharing computer service in New York City that is considered a forerunner of things to come. A computer at the GE Information Processing Center is hooked up, via telephone lines and teletypewriters, to 100 clients-among them, a management consultant, a medical researcher, a publishing representative, an investment research specialist, a small businessman and a group of engineering students.

[ocr errors]

The customers employ the computer for everything from bookkeeping to the solution of highly complex scientific, technical and economic problems. There is never any waiting because the machine operates at such fantastic speeds.

Other sorts of computer networks are possible. Robert Fano, who directs a computer time-sharing setup for engineering faculty and students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, envisions systems linking school computers to students' homes. Assignments programed in the computer would be printed out on a teletypewriter in the home. The student would transmit answers back to the computer, which would check them and either repeat troublesome points or move on to the next assignment. Such an arrangement would let each student proceed at his own pace.

Some computer makers predict that by the late 1970s a new system of credit based on computer networks will have started replacing cash and checks. The heart of the system will be a bank computer hooked up to homes, stores, utilities and employers in a community. One bank's computers will be interconnected with other banks' computers.

CUTTING PAPER WORK

The possibilities of such a system are varied. By punching a keyboard in its office, a factory could credit a worker's weekly paycheck to his bank account. When the employe shops, he could pay for purchases by having a store signal his bank's computer to transfer funds from his account to the store's. Eventually, individuals might pay bills for utilities and rent through computer hookups to their homes. The theoretical advantage of all this would be a great saving of time and paper work in conducting financial transactions.

The Bank of Delaware and a chain of four shoe stores in Wilmington have been coperating since last March in a limited test of “electronic credit.” Some 200 account holders at the bank have been given special identification cards. If one of these persons buys a pair of shoes at one of the chain's outlets, he presents his card to the clerk, who inserts it in an automatic dialing device attached to a push-button phone and punches out the charge.

The card causes an identifying signal to be transmitted to the computer, and a recorded voice reports back over the phone whether the shopper has enough funds in his account to cover the purchase. If the funds are sufficient, the computer deducts the price of the shoes from the customer's account and credits it to the chain's account. “It has been very satisfactory so far,” says a bank spokes

man.

A Federal study group sees a strong likelihood that computer networks for the storage and transmission of medical data will be in operation within a decade or two. The system would be built around computers at regional Government health centers. In these would be stored individual medical histories of all citizens, along with exhaustive general medical information, such as patterns of symptoms for various ailments. The computers would be linked to doctors' offices and hospitals.

A DIAGNOSTIC TOOL

The setup would permit physicians to obtain instant medical profiles of patients. It also would aid in diagnosis of unusual cases; the doctor could feed a patient's symptoms into the computer, which would promptly respond with a list of the most likely causes.

“The computer will detect patterns that may not bave been apparent to the doctor,” says Evon C. Greanias, who is guiding development of a medical information system at International Business Machines Corp. “It won't make decisions for the doctor. But it will analyze information and save a lot of the doctor's time.”

All computer experts agree the use of computers to simulate reality is sure to grow rapidly. This technique involves construction of a mathematical “model” of real behavior or conditions in a computer. It permits researchers to investigate matters that would be impossible or too costly to study in actuality. Already computers have simulated the flights of spacecraft and nuclear attacks.

One important trend for the future is likely to be simulation in the economic field. At the local level, a bank could create an economic model of a marketing area; it would contain information about population, age groups, income levels and buying habits. This could aid businessmen.

« PreviousContinue »