The Impact of the Information Revolution
What has been the impact of the information revolution, and how should we respond? Let's begin by considering how fast our world shifted to a computer-based society. At the end of World War II, the first electronic digital computer ENIAC weighed thirty tons, had 18,000 vacuum tubes, and occupied a space as large as a boxcar. Less than forty years later, many hand-held calculators had comparable computing power for a few dollars. Today most people have a computer on their desks with more computing power than engineers could imagine just a few years ago.
The impact of computers on our society was probably best seen when in 1982 Time magazine picked the computer as its "Man of the Year", actually listing it as "Machine of the Year". It is hard to imagine a picture of the Spirit of St. Louis or an Apollo Lander on the magazine cover under a banner "Machine of the Year".
This perhaps shows how important the computer has become in our society.
The computer has become helpful in managing knowledge at a time when the amount of information is expanding rapidly. The information stored in the world's libraries and computers doubles every eight years. In a sense, the computer age and the information age seem to go hand in hand.
The rapid development and use of computing power, however, have also raised some significant social and moral questions. People in this society need to think clearly about these issues, but often ignore them or become confused:
One key issue is computer crime. In a sense, computer-fraud is merely a new field with old problems. Computer crimes are often nothing more than fraud, larceny, and embezzlement carried out by more sophisticated means. The crimes usually involve changing addresses, records, or files. In short, they are old-fashioned crimes using high technology.
Another concern arises from the centralization of information. Govemmental agencies, banks, and businesses use computers to collect information on its citizens and customers. For example, it is estimated that the U.S. government has on average about fifteen files on each American. Nothing is inherently wrong with collecting information if the information can be kept confidential and is not used for immoral actions. Unfortunately, this is often difficult to guarantee.
In an information-based society, the centralization of information can be as dangerous as the centralization of power. We should be concerned about the collection and use of large amounts of person al information. In the past, centralized information processing was used for persecution.