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Says Atari's chief scientist, Alan Kay:
"Software is getting to be embarrassing."
Many of the programs now being touted are hardly worth the cost, or hardly worth doing at all. Why should a computer be needed to balance a checkbook or to turn off the living-room lights? Or to recommend a dinner menu, particularly when it can consider (as did a $34 item called the Pizza Program) ice cream as an appetizer? Indeed, there are many people who may quite reasonably decide that they can get along very nicely without a computer. Even the most impressive information networks may provide the customer with nothing but a large telephone bill. "You cannot rely on being able to find what you want," says Atari's Kay. "It's really more useful to go to a library."
It is becoming increasingly evident that a fool assigned to work with a computer can conceal his own foolishness in the guise of high-tech authority. Lives there a single citizen who has not been commanded by a misguided computer to pay an income tax installment or department store bill that he has already paid?
What is true for fools is no less true for criminals, who are now able to commit electronic larceny from the comfort of their living rooms. The probable champion is Stanley Mark Rifkin, a computer analyst in Los Angeles, who tricked the machines at the Security Pacific National Bank into giving him $10 million. While free on bail for that in 1979 (he was eventually sentenced to eight years), he was arrested for trying to steal $50 million from Union Bank (the charges were eventually dropped). According to Donn Parker, a specialist in computer abuse at SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute), "Nobody seems to know exactly what computer crime is, how much of it there is, and whether it is increasing or decreasing. We do know that computers are changing the nature of business crime significantly."
Even if all the technical and intellectual problems can be solved, there are major social problems inherent in the computer revolution. The most obvious is unemployment, since the basic purpose of commercial computerization is to get more work done by fewer people. One British study predicts that "automation-induced unemployment" in Western Europe could reach 16% in the next decade, but most analyses are more optimistic. The general rule seems to be that new technology eventual ly creates as many jobs as it destroys, and often more. "People who put in computers usually increase their staffs as well," says CPT's Scheff. "Of course," he adds, one industry may kill another industry. That's tough on some people."
Theoretically, all unemployed workers can be retrained, but retraining programs are not high on the nation's agenda. Many new jobs, moreover, will require an aptitude in using computers, and the retraining needed to use them will have to be repeated as the technology keeps