UNDERSTANDING OF COMPUTERS After looking at the various roles of the computer, one must ask, do people understand the computer per se by itself? And the answer is that a surprising number do. And quite a few don't. Indeed between one-quarter and one-third of the population believe the computer is beyond the understanding of the typical person. Also, many people have the wrong notion about who causes computer mistakes - machines or people. Computers are beyond the understanding of the typical person. Are they? Well 25% of the adults and 31% of the youth think so. But 62% of the adults and 49% of the youth think they are within comprehension. Perhaps more revealing - among schools with an instructional computer program, over 80% of the students believe that computers are within their understanding. Computers make mistakes at least 10% of the time. This statement must be coupled with the next one: Programmers and operators make mistakes, but computers are, for the most part, error free. FACT: Statement 1 is absolutely false, statement 2 is true. How did respondents do with these questions? Most answered "correctly" - about 68%, fewer youth than adults, but a fair number of people were downright wrong (13%). The rest of the people didn't know (19%). These percentages are similar to those scored on nationwide tests of scientific facts - about 2/3 of the people know the facts but the other third are wrong or just don't know. A happy situation? Not very. It is possible to design computer systems which protect the privacy of data. Not even the computer designer knows for sure, so what can we expect from the general public? Well, 61% of the adults think you can design a secure system and 26% think you can't; only 49% of the youth think you can and 16% think you can't. What does all this say? Probably nothing except that some people are optimists and some are pessimists, and at least on the data privacy issue, more adults are optimistic than young people. STATISTICAL RESULTS OF SURVEY OF PUBLIC ATTITUDES TOWARDS COMPUTERS IN SOCIETY ADULT (N=300) YOUTH (N=543) Strongly Strongly strongly Strongly or Mostly or Mostly or Mostly or Mostly Agree Disagree Agree Disagree Computer Impact on the Quality of Life Computers will improve education. 86.6% 5.9% 84.2% 4.5% Computers will improve Iaw enforcement. 81.9 3.3 70.0 10.1 Computers will improve health Care. 78.5 5.3 54.1 11.9 Credit rating data banks are a worthwhile 64.2 13.4 64.0 7.6 use of computers. Computer Threat to Society A person today cannot escape the 91.6 4.0 66.6 17.7 influence of computers. Computer polls and predictions 48.1 27.5 44.2 26.9 influence the outcome of elections. Computers dehumanize society by treating 37.4 50.3 39.9 30.5 everyone as a number. Computers isolate people by preventing 18.7 62.5 20.9 42.5 normal social interactions among users. Understanding the Role of Computers Computers are best suited for doing 80.0 10.3 57.0 21.6 repetitive, monotonous tasks. Computers are a tool just like a 72.6 14.7 61.3 23.4 hammer or lathe. Computers slow down and complicate 17.6 66.4 17.4 68.8 simple business operations. Computers will replace low-skill jobs 71.0 15.0 61.8 14.4 and create jobs needing specialized training Computers will create as many jobs 62.5 16.4 40.0 29.1 as they eliminate. Understanding of Computers Computers are beyond the understanding 25.2 61.6 30.6 49.2 of the typical person. = Computers make mistakes at least 10% 9.6 76.7 10.3 60.0 of the time. Programmers and operators make mistakes, 67.0 19.3 72.3 13.3 but computers are, for the most part. error free. It is possible to design computer 60.2 26.4 48.6 15.9 systems which protect the privacy of data.