Tuesday, July 15, 2014


In my last post I harangued about the computerization of automobiles which has transformed cars from icons to mere modes of transportation.

Back in the 1960’s Alvin Toffler wrote the book Future Shock which premised that society would be unable to adjust to rapid change: this, of course has been disproved by the advent of computers.

In 1983 I was introduced to basic computing while attending college.  Since that time computers have brought about unbelievable change in only thirty years.  It is as though we stepped out of the mechanical dark ages into a time of unlimited technology.  

To understand the quantum advancements in computers you must understand the basic unite of byte. 

Basically one byte is eight binary digits which compose one character or one letter.
·       1 Kilobyte = 1,000 Bytes
·       1 Megabyte = 1,000 Kilobytes or 1,000,000 (one million) Bytes
·       1 Gigabytes = 1,000 Megabytes or 1,000,000000 (one million) Kilobytes or 1,000,000,000,000, (one billion) Bytes. 

 The standard for computers in schools in 1985 when I began teaching was the Apple II with 48 kilobytes of memory.    In 1990 I bought an Apple II-C+ with 500 Kilobytes of memory, and about that time Apple came out with the Macintosh with 1 Megabyte of memory.  


Today inexpensive desktop computers handle Gigabytes and more expensive units – Terabytes (trillions of bytes.)

At this point it seems that the only limit to computer expansion is money for research and development.   Computer scientists are already working on computers that can learn, program and troubleshoot themselves (it seems science fiction writers are always the catalyst for science.)

Orwell’s 1984 gave us a picture of a world run by Big Brother: society totally manipulated by a ruling class.   But, 1984 was before the advent of computers.  

The next logical jump is a society completely run by computers – or a God Computer: a self-learning computer that has downloaded all the computer data in the world and manipulated and finally stored all relevant data for immediate access; and with the ability for logical decision making.  

This would not necessarily be a bad thing.   It would means that we would have to turn over authority from elected men of various and dubious intelligence to a logical intellect with unlimited intelligence and amassed knowledge. 

Take medicine: If all the medical information in the world was stored for immediate access then doctors would only need to input a patients symptoms and the computer would diagnose and prescribe the proper treatment.   

Look at our judicial system.   I have served on jury duty and it is a circus.   You have twelve individuals of questionable intelligence deciding the merits of a case, and a judge with religious, personal, racial and social biases passing sentence.   I had much rather have a judicial computer containing all US and State laws and regulations, with the ability to think and reason based on said laws, make a logical and impartial judgment on a case involving me. 

Of course there would be technical, cultural, social and psychological hurtles to overcome.   But the end results would be that instead of our lives being controlled and manipulated in the chaotic fashion of 1984 we would all be tied into a logical and impartial mainframe possessing all knowledge.

Perhaps I have over thought this…

What could possibly go wrong?

the Ol’Buzzard      


  1. A judicial computer might be able to apply the law, but that's not the same thing as seeing that justice is done. Sometimes justice requires interpreting the law a certain way to incorporate mercy or special circumstances. A human judge, terribly flawed though s/he may be, is still the best one to do that.

    1. Can you imagine a jury of twelve fundamentalist Christian Tea Party Republicans and a eighty year old racist judge from Mississippi deciding your case?
      That scenario is not only possible but in some states it is likely.

      I have been on jury duty in Maine; and it is scary. Justice is not blind - it is often ignorant.

  2. "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

  3. Did you read the interview in which Stephen Hawking said that self-evident computers would be an essential threat to mankind, as well as an incredible boon to science? He took the positives of computers and extrapolated to the end result: their realization that mankind was hindering their progress.

    As far as jury duty goes, I think computerized justice would be a failure on several levels. I've served on a jury, and believe my participation kept an innocent man out of jail. I convinced nine other people that a guy charged with DUI was actually innocent, because the cop and the prosecutors weren't taking into account his doctor's testimony of the man's narcolepsy. Along with other inconsistencies in their case (they found seven individual cans of beer in his backseat floorboard, each in a separate paper bag, and assumed he had bought them all at once on the day of the traffic stop. No self respecting beer drinker buys seven individual tall boys and has them individually bagged up, when it's a lot cheaper to buy a six pack or twelve pack... He said he bought a can of beer every morning on his way home from his midnight shift at the factory, and didn't bother to clean out his car regularly... plausible as hell to me, since I had worked midnight shifts and did the very same thing every morning on the drive home) Anyway, by the second day of deliberations, I had turned nine other people's opinions and he walked. A computer might have weighed that evidence differently.

    Besides, we'd miss out on great movies like "Twelve Angry Men", or "And Justice for All", or "A Few Good Men", or the best of them all, "My Cousin Vinny" if we didn't have jury trials and epic judges.

  4. I agree with Mr. Squatlo here...computers can do a lot of good things with the guidance of human morality...Your point about medicine though, in light of what goes on in the USA, makes a lot of sense when you look at European Health Care. My health care history is accessible to any doctor who treats me and to myself. It seems so fractured and hierarchal in America...you are not to be trusted with your own health care records and it is very hard for the various health services to interact with each other. In a lot of cases, I am the bottom line in calling the shots for my own medical care.
    I have served on several juries in New York City and though we all complain about jury duty, I felt it was a privilege and a real educational experience to be able to do it. It is the human element that makes a society. If we let computers run our economic system? Well we are seeing the consequences of that today! We need fair and honest systems, we need compassion and the ability to empathize to regulate the circuits...I admit that humans have the innate gift to fuck any system up which makes much of what I dream of seemingly impossible, but if you are going to take a model from sci fi to project the effect of computers on societiy, I would rather read Phillip K. Dick...an ultimate metaphysical cynic technocrat.

  5. I suspect that the god computer will be controlled by the rich and powerful.


COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."