Reappraisal of Computers

May 12, 1971

Report Outline
Complaints and Fears About Computers
Rapid Growth of the Computer Industry
Speculation About Computerized Future
Special Focus

Complaints and Fears About Computers

The electronic computer, the president of Burroughs Corp. asserted several years ago, “has a more beneficial potential for the human race than any other invention in history.” At the time, few knowledgeable persons would have quarrelled with that appraisal. Computers, it was confidently predicted in the early 1960s, would make business more creative and efficient and thus help to raise per-capita income. In addition, the machines would eliminate drudgery and increase leisure time. The almost universal view of the computer was that of a benevolent servant of man.

Today, many former enthusiasts are having second thoughts. Businessmen have found that computers, though indispensable in many ways, lack the intuition needed to arrive at sound executive decisions. They have found also that the machines are highly vulnerable to sabotage and that electronically stored information can be pirated almost as easily as can files committed to paper.

Almost every consumer is indirectly acquainted with computers. Numbering about 60,000, the machines handle the vast majority of the nation's banking transactions as well as the customer accounts of utilities, credit-card companies, and large department stores. Rare is the person dealing with such establishments who has not encountered an error in his computerized bill. In most instances, the process of getting the error acknowledged—much less rectified—is lengthy and frustrating.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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May 12, 1971  Reappraisal of Computers
Jul. 25, 1962  Approach to Thinking Machines
Computers and the Internet