The Computer Moves In

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We may be moving toward a re-evaluation of what makes us human."

For all such prophecies, M.I.T. Computer Professor Joseph Weizenbaum has answers ranging from disapproval to scorn. He has insisted that "giving children computers to play with ... cannot touch ... any real problem," and he has described the new computer generation as "bright young men of disheveled appearance [playing out] megalomaniacal fantasies of omnipotence."

Weizenbaum's basic objection to the computer enthusiasts is that they have no sense of limits. Says he:

"The assertion that all human knowledge is encodable in streams of zeros and ones—philosophically, that's very hard to swallow. In effect, the whole world is made to seem computable. This generates a kind of tunnel vision, where the only problems that seem legitimate are problems that can be put on a computer. There is a whole world of real problems, of human problems, which is essentially ignored."

So the revolution has begun, and as usually happens with revolutions, nobody can agree on where it is going or how it will end. Nils Nilsson, director of the Artificial Intelligence Center at SRI International, believes the personal computer, like television, can "greatly increase the forces of both good and evil." Marvin Minsky, another of M.I.T.'s computer experts, believes the key significance of the personal computer is not the establishment of an intellectual ruling class, as some fear, but rather a kind of democratization of the new technology. Says he: "The desktop revolution has brought the tools that only professionals have had into the hands of the public. God knows what will happen now."

Perhaps the revolution will fulfill itself only when people no longer see anything unusual in the brave New World, when they see their computer not as a fearsome challenger to their intelligence but as a useful linkup of some everyday gadgets: the calculator, the TV and the typewriter. Or as Osborne's Adam Osborne puts it: "The future lies in designing and selling computers that people don't realize are computers at all." —By Otto Friedrich. Reported by Michael Moritz/San Fransicso, J. Madeleine Nash/Chicago and Peter Stoler/New York

* The telephone survery of 1,109 registered voters was conducted on Dec. 8 and 9. The margin of sampling error plus or minus 3%

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