On the Future Computer Era

Modification of the American Character and the Role of the Engineer, or, A Little Caution in the Haste to Number

by Paul Baran


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A warning that unintended but disastrous effects on society have resulted from improved and computerized recordkeeping, owing to (1) the habit of limiting the number of variables considered to those easily quantified, (2) the tendency to use records and scores instead of judgment, and (3) the use of information to maximize private profit without regard to the damage inflicted by everybody doing this at once. Using computers, loan and insurance companies screen out the highest-risk groups. Fire or burglary insurance cannot be obtained in areas where business development is most needed. Many people are rendered uninsurable and/or unemployable on the basis of health, education, or past failures or infractions that former generations would have successfully concealed. What future have the 40 percent of all urban youth (90 percent Negro) who will have some brush with the law, when an arrest record bars them forever? Those who understand technology have an obligation to lift their eyes from minimizing subsystem costs and at least be an early warning system for the rest of society.

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