Are you intimidated by computers? Do you worry that computers might eventually take over everything? See what these textbook authors, computer scientists, have to say on the subject. Although computer technology has become increasingly more sophisticated since this selection was written, the principles described in it remain as true today as when they were first written.
1 Computers exist to benefit and assist people, not to replace them. Computers cannot, for example, make emotional judgments, disobey instructions entered by humans, read people's minds, or replace interpersonal relationships. On the contrary, people must be extremely explicit in instructing a computer to perform even the simplest commands. What computers can do, however, is extremely helpful. They can
- Store data in vast amounts
- Process data quickly and accurately
- Simulate possible outcomes based on a given set of conditions
- Recommend or take action based on output
2 Computers cannot be effective unless the people using them are able to identify the results they need and how to achieve those results. Ultimately, computers are dependent upon people.
3 Accordingly, people should not relinquish their decision-making responsibilities to computers. Humans need to be on hand to interpret conditions reported by computers, particularly if medical treatment, national defense, air traffic control, or even loan processing is involved. Nonprogrammable, human factors must complement computer read-outs for a complete and fair analysis.
4 At times computers may appear to make decisions. For example, in monitoring a refinery (a site where substances such as oil are processed), a computer might trigger a fire-extinguishing system. Another computer, used for monitoring vital signs, might regulate the flow of oxygen to a patient. In both cases, however, although the computer initiates action, it does not make a decision. Rather, the decisions of these process control systems were made by the human beings who programmed the machines to respond to a particular set of conditions. Therefore, people must take complete responsibility for a computer's actions. They must anticipate all potential problems and direct computers to avoid them.
5 While computers may be able to enhance a person's capabilities, they can never adequately replace interpersonal relationships. Even the most sophisticated computing machinery cannot supplant parent-to-child and teacher-to-student relationships. Similarly, the rapport between physician and patient is essential for successful treatment.
6 People, then, are an integral part of any computer system that accepts input, processes it, and delivers output. People control computer systems through program design, by monitoring operations, and by making final decisions based upon computer output They should not give up decision-making responsibilities because the human qualities of analysis, reasoning, and compassion are required to interpret computer delivered results.
Source: Timothy Trainor and Diane Krasnewich, Computers, 4th ed. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1994, pp. 12-14.