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By the time the youthful programmers reach the eighth or ninth grade, their skills may reach a marketable level. In Chicago, Jonathan Dubman, 14, and Kay Borzsony, 13, have formed a company called Aristotle Software to sell their own computer games and graphics programs. Says Kay: "The nice thing about the computer business is that there is no real bias against children. In the computer magazines, you read articles by twelve-and 13-year-olds." Laura Hyatt, 15, of Ridgewood, helps a stymied local insurance office figure out how to use its software. Says she: "It's better than babysitting." And, at $3.50 an hour, somewhat more profitable.
The prodigy of prodigies may be Eugene Volokh, 14, of Los Angeles. A Russian emigre, he earns $480 each week by doing 24 hours of programming for 20th Century-Fox, while carrying a full load of courses as a junior at UCLA. This year Greg Christensen, 18, of Anaheim, Calif., could make $100,000 in royalties from a video game he developed that was bought by Atari. Other youngsters are waiting at the sidelines in hopes of catching up with these young entrepreneurs. Every Tuesday night, Scott Whitfield, 13, and his brother Shawn, 11, appear at the Menlo Park, Calif., public library to get computer instruction. Says Scott: "We'll probably never get a job if we don't learn how to use a computer."
Not all youngsters take equally to the machines. In a typical computer class, only about one in five students becomes seriously involved. Says Steven Scott, 16, of Wausau's West High: "Either you get the hang of it or you don't." Even so dedicated a computernik as Ridgewood's Nick Newman finds programming interesting but only for a purpose. His own goal is to apply his computer knowledge to a career in science or medicine.
Whatever these youngsters make of their computer experiences, they will surely confront the world differently from their BILL of PIERCE ease. Many parents. The precise, orderly steps of logic required to use and program the machines promise to shapeand sharpenthe thought processes of the computer generation. Indeed, the youngsters playing all those strategy games are doing precisely what corporations do when they plan to launch a new product or what military leaders do when they devise strategies to confront a potential foe.
Whether such abilities will change the world for the better is another matter. Princeton Psychologist George Miller, for one, has doubts that "a few years of thinking like a computer can change patterns of irrational thought that have persisted throughout recorded history." Other social critics ask if clear thinking is enoughif, in fact, there might not be a danger in raising a generation to believe that it has the analytical tools to contemplate any problem. Says M.I.T. Computer Science Professor Joseph Weizenbaum: "There's a whole world of real problems,