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The Social Implications of Computing

Directed by Mark Harrison, "Visions of Heaven and Hell" is a three-part cautionary tale come documentary commissioned by Channel Four, that warns of the impending infiltration of technology and pessimistically endeavours to communicate the sentient of an old Buddhist proverb which states "To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell." and within computerisation lies such a key thought a dismal set of apprehensive predilections.

A not-so-distant possible future is portrayed by the predictions the from such techno-thinkers as Douglas Adams, Esther Dyson, Faith Popcorn, Lily Burana and John Naisbitt, in which technology thoroughly penetrates everyday life, displacing social relationships with a formless web of stratified information and global capital.

The overriding philosophy demonstrated throughout these voids is that technology is bad, avoid it at all costs, it assumes theat just because one aspect of technology is unappealing or useless all of it is, but this attitude causes them to miss out on some of the finer enhancements to their lives that technology, through computerization, can add.

As students of computer science we are expected to make rational agreements on subjects such as the social implications of computation technology based on current technology advances and palpable future developments. As the task asks for a synopsis, of the material, notwithstanding a highly unlikely series of events resulting in a series engineered to prove such though, this set of programmes dose not serve any such purpose.

We should also be in a position where we can transcend ignorance and misconceptions about programable systems. This resource is commendable inasmuch as in conjunction with this assignment, it has the potential to force the practice of seeing both sides of a contentious subject.

However, the probability of this situation being engineered is statistically insignificant, in which case it is a thoroughly oversimplified process to facilitate thought development, inasmuch as trying to understand the logic and in many cases the semantics behind the agreements put forward! In the words of William Shakespeare it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. (Macbeth)

The series superficially considers statistically possible social changes that the explosion of new technologies could bring, it also warns that we should proceed with Technological change gradually, being careful that whatever the benefits, we should be aware of the social effect that much of this will bring and despondently attempts to answer questions of the less clear impact on individuals and societies resulting from technology, specifically "will the future be a technological heaven or a technological hell? However, as stated above its intonation is not conducive to the intrinsic nature the study expected from students of computer science.

The first part "Selling the Future" appears to poses the question, "will new technologies free the individual or isolate him and create ever-increasing pressures?" Who are the winners and losers of the information revolution at the cost of selling us the idea of a better future and at the massive social change that new technology could bring.

Technological advances that enable a fortunate few, maybe 20% of the population;. to watch films on demand, and play electronic games with users in other locations has also introduced new and more complex systems into all our lives which makes us more technically, inasmuch as we live in an increasingly artificial world where buildings, cars, telephone, TV, computers, isolate us from the natural world and natural human conversation. What about the huge reliance on technology.

If the Internet connection fails, then all the facilities available through thatv connection will also be lost. At present, there is a manual replacement for most things: you can go to the video shop for a video, or go to the shops to buy some goods, or go the bank to perform a transaction, you know how to calculate figures manually if your calculator stops working.

Technological systems must also provide an alternative to a centralised operation where many employees could carry out their work from home, this could enable the organisation to, at some point, not only downsize its physical assets, assuming the function they exist to provide can be provided by employees provided with interment access.

The option of not going into the office offers significant saving on transportation expenses to and from the conventional office this in tern reduces the pollution of the environment because of less travelling needs to be done. This transferases of communication technology means workers are free to work from where they want and to live where they want, but this is no guarantee of happiness from a human point of view, a large amount of the social interactions which that is experienced at work is cut drastically.

The same technologies that free us may also ensnare us in global competition where the Internet enables large and small companies alike to advertise their companies and services to a massive audience, for a small fee, companies will be able to be located around the world, that will contract other companies, to produce for them. This will reduce their overheads, and will lead to an increase in the co-operation between organisations. Many workers will work on a contract basis, perhaps for more than one employer at a time. But as he is employed on a periodic basis, he will no longer be able to guarantee source of income, pension or redundancy.

In such a marketplace, day & night are interchangeable, everyone is directly or indirectly affected by the models of social behaviour and conditions that the technology makes possible but economic change makes accentual thus work becomes a continues activity where everyone is always on-line and never off-duty and working life is still repetitious but now its of based on acquiring knowledge. People also have social needs in which human interaction plays a very important role, the new system would create a working environment where human interaction is reduced to a minium due to many if not all tasks that would require generate contact with each other would be cut drastically.

If the spread of technology is to be carried out successfully for all, then it will mean re-educating people away from the notion of a life long 9-5 job to a world with a different emphasis. If we continue to allow technology to take over the workforce without coming up with alternatives for people, then social unrest will continue to increase and what lies ahead of us isn't a very nice prospect.

The second part "Welcome to the Jungle" appears to explore how new technologies are poised to drastically transform the way the individual lives and works, asking "who will be the winners and losers in the coming cyber-world and what will be the role of the Internet?" described as an info-future and proceeds toward a model of the new techno-state, Singapore, or what William Gibson glibly calls "Disneyland with death penalties."

There is an impressive improvement in networking and communications technology underway. The growth in wireless communication can and will bring many advantages in the 21st century. The structure of societies, organisations and computer systems are all moving in one direction: away from top-down central control and towards flat, distributed, team- based webs. Computer technology sets us free and brings us together

No technology is intrinsically good or evil, it is neutral, it is a force for democracy, it offers an opportunity for free debate and association which leaves behind traditional, national politics, and cuts across traditional social divisions. Computers are knowledge machines that have assess to the sum of human knowledge, which are available to everyone.

Developed societies have lost much sense of community. We are isolated in travel, shopping and in housing. Technology can re-connect us to people we like, with similar interests regardless of place. This is a new, segmented global community.

One of the most obvious negative effect of this proliferation of technology is that we must all require a greater skills base which may in turn mean that the low skilled work force that would up to a point be employed cannot easily be absorbed into such a fundamentally new employment situations, dealing with the more complex areas such as employment law, as apposed to the tasks of one area of expertise.

This shift is the skill base required for a given job may have an effect on the employment opportunities in the long tem as, in time, this may displace all work forces, because technology developments are driven by commercial and political interests and the rich and poor will become richer and poorer as the rich buy information to become richer and the poor are excluded from technology based society.

The third part "The Virtual Wasteland" appears to explore a future where technological advances have produced a divided and disconnected society. "Are the new technologies creating a world of the information rich and the information poor?". Some believe technology will inevitably erect bars before that window to isolate and protect a technological intelligentsia from a poor and excluded underclass.

The information superhighway is being built to move information from place to place almost instantaneously. Computers will come Internet-ready. Televisions will become interactive through the Internet, for shopping, entertainment, research and working. The changes in technology can be predicted fairly well microprocessor technology has improved 25,000 times over the last 25 years. Today's computers are 100,000 times more powerful than the 1950's computers and cost 1,000 times less. This trend should continue, ("Moores Law " - Microchips double in power every two years), thus leading to reasonable predictions of computers running at 800Mhz and having 1Gb of ultra fast memory. What is less clear is the impact on individuals are society: will the future be a technological heaven or a technological hell?

When technology developments are driven by commercial and political interests where massive amounts of time and money have been spent developing, purchasing, and implementing systems as was, is; and for ever more shall be the case, is not done in the name of progress but to facility business, and some panics is warned when doling with issues of commerce.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Association for Progressive Communications, a world-wide organisation of like-minded computer networks providing a global communications network dedicated to the free and balanced flow of information. There is an fundamental element of fact in that in this instance computerisation is a driving rather a unifying force, there are already gaps between the 'haves' and 'have nots'. These gaps have always been there and look as if they will always exist. However it would appear that two classes of workers are emerging; those that provide information necessary to control an ever increasing range of industrial applications, and the information Recipients that use this information with little control over their working lives.

The falling cost of technology should in theory make access to computers and networked information available to all classes in society. Yet there will be a growing gap between those countries which can develop high technology effectively by applying IT principles, and those which cannot.

The existing divide between those people who simply make use of the computer as an effective tool, and those who can understand the computer is likely to grow. Developments in technology may lead to a widening gap between these broad social groups.

I am the website administrator of the Wandle industrial museum (http://www.wandle.org). Established in 1983 by local people determined to ensure that the history of the valley was no longer neglected but enhanced awareness its heritage for the use and benefits of the community.

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