Technology: The Cybernated Generation

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Staggering Capacity. The most impressive fact about the age of the computer is how young it still is—and how little society has yet felt the full impact of the computer's potential. In the years to come, computers will be able to converse with men, will themselves run supermarkets and laboratories, will help to find cures for man's diseases, and will automatically translate foreign languages on worldwide TV relayed by satellite. Optical scanning devices, already in operation in some companies, will eventually enable computers to gobble up all kinds of information visually. The machines will then be able to memorize and store whole libraries, in effect acquiring matchless classical and scientific educations by capturing all the knowledge to which man is heir.

One of the most important computer innovations is the introduction of time sharing, in which many users across the nation have nearly simultaneous access to a central computer complex by teletype hookup. At M.I.T., Project MAC (for Machine-Aided Cognition) is already solving problems, answering questions and keeping books on an experimental basis for some 400 users. Scientists who know MAC's language can feed their problems to the computer from typewriter-like keyboards in their own homes or labs. Thus, computers will eventually become as close to everyday life as the telephone—a sort of public utility of information.

The computer provides man with a staggering new capacity to discover, build, solve and think. Thomas L. Whisler, professor of industrial relations at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, points out that "it will change everybody's life, and all change requires some effort and some cost to people." So it must be: the computer is already upsetting old patterns of life, challenging accepted concepts, raising new specters to be conquered. Years from now man will look back on these days as the beginning of a dramatic extension of his power over his environment, an age in which technology began to recast human society. In the long run, the computer is not so much a challenge to man as a challenge for him: a triumph of technology to be developed, subdued and put to constantly increasing use.

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