THE COMPUTER THREAT TO SOCIETY Respondents were mixed in their feelings about the threatening nature of computers. Most felt they were unable to escape the influence of the computer. Nearly half saw computer predictions influencing the outcome of elections. More than one-third felt that computers dehumanize society to some extent. About one-quarter saw the computer taking more jobs than it creates. And about one-fifth saw the computer having an isolating effect on programmers, operators, etc. A person cannot escape the influence of computers. 92% of the adults agreed with that statement, most "strongly" agreeing; only 4% disagreed. These percentages are virtually the same as those recorded in the 1971 AFIPS/Time survey. Reflecting a more optimistic, perhaps somewhat naive view that one can drop out and avoid anything one doesn't approve of, only 67% of the young people felt they could not escape the influence of computers and 18% strongly disagreed with the notion that computers couldn't be avoided. Computer polls and predictions influence the outcome of elections. About 46% of the respondents agreed with this statement and 27% disagreed. In a democratic society, this is truly of grave importance. If almost half the people, adult and youth alike, feel their voting behavior is in some way influenced by computer polls and predictions (join the bandwagon, we've lost so why bother voting, etc.) then we have a real problem. Computers dehumanize society by treating everyone as a number. Reflecting a rather positive shift in attitude, only 37% of the adult respondents agreed with this statement and 50% disagreed compared to the percentages of 54% agreement and 40% disagreement just four years ago in the AFIPS/Time survey. The younger respondents in the current Creative Computing survey were more pessimistic; 40% agreed that computers dehumanize and only 31% disagreed. (Youth were not included in the 1971 survey.) Computers isolate people by preventing normal social interactions among users. Computer bums and computer freaks are common around any school with a computer. Million dollar corporate computers have to be fed data around the clock to justify their investment and there is a growing army of midnight shift programmers and operators. Among the uninitiated, FORTRAN or COBOL are more foreign than French or German. Are computers really isolating segments of society? Maybe, but apparently it's not very noticeable since only 20% of the respondents agreed with the statement above. More revealing, however, is the fact that 63% of adults disagreed with the statement and only 43% of young people disagreed. Perhaps computer freaks, who tend to be among the younger cadre, are becoming more evident. [image] [image] *** UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF COMPUTERS This issue was examined from two directions: what types of jobs are suitable for a computer and what will be its effect on human employment (or unemployment)? For the most part, adults saw the computer as suitable for dull, repetitive tasks like a hammer or lathe while young people saw computers in much broader roles. Furthermore, adults saw computers replacing low skill jobs and creating just as many jobs as they eliminate; young people were not as optimistic. Computers are best suited for doing repetitive, monotonous tasks. Eighty percent of the adults agreed with this statement and 10% disagreed. Among young people, 57% agreed, 22% disagreed. In other words, young people see the computer doing a wide variety of things beyond simply data processing, numerical machine tool control, and telephone switching. But perhaps in some of these more sophisticated applications in which the computer takes over some of the human decision-making function, youthful respondents are more fearful of computers and less optimistic than adults. Computers are a tool just like a hammer or lathe. Again, adults are in considerably greater agreement with this statement than are younger respondents. Computers slow down and complicate simple business operations. Interestingly enough, most people seem to believe that computers are used reasonably well in business because 68% disagree with this statement and only 17% agree. Computers will replace low skill jobs and create jobs needing specialized training. Somewhat more adults agreed with this statement (71%) than did youth (62%). About 15% of both adults and youth disagreed. This implies that a substantial fear exists that computers will take a tremendous number of jobs and there will have to be a massive effort by society (retraining, welfare, or ?) to absorb the human beings put out of work by the computer monster. This leads to the next question. Computers will replace as many jobs as they eliminate. Again, somewhat more adults agreed (70%) than did youth (61%) and fewer adults disagreed (13%) than youth (23%). So we see that a large number of people believe the computer will replace low skill jobs, but furthermore, we see some question about the creation of new jobs by the computer to replace the ones eliminated and, as before, there is even more doubt expressed by youthful respondents.