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Around The Sun: Computer Dangers

Are computers servants, or would-be dictators? Steve Harrison considers the issue.

“The danger from computers is not that one day they will get as smart as men, but that we will agree and decide to meet them halfway.’’

When I read that tonight I was reminded of how I felt about computers before I started to use them.

My childhood imagination was influenced by TV programmes – Lost In Space, Dr Who, Star Trek. Then there was Bamber Gasgoigne compereing University Challenge. George Orwell’s novel 1984 also found its way into my developing mind.

I thought I was a mental midget surrounded by superhuman intelligence – most probably from another planet. Take for instance University Challenge. If you could even understand the questions, let alone answer them, on that quiz programme you were MENSA material.

We were awe-struck as we watched the programme. Boy,that Bamber Gascoigne was a living, breathing piece of super inelligence.

An association became firmly established in my mind. Higher intelligence – super computers.

An American friend of mine, Jim, introduced me to computers in 1987. To say I was intimidated about them, almost paranoid, would be a major understatement.
Although I recognized the limits of my knowledge I felt I knew enough to be convinced that computers would one day take over the world, controlling everything. My first few weeks of getting to know a computer were fraught with anxiety. There was a real sense of stepping into enemy territory.

Then one day the truth dawned on me. Click! Just like that. Actually it really was a CLICK!

Computers are merely tools. They are not clever. They do not ha imagination. They’re tools.

I was so relieved at this discovery that I almost used a very earth and very human word beginning with f…

Put a pencil in the hands of a 5 year old, and what do you get? Put that same pencil in the hands of Leonardo Da Vinci, then see the difference.

And computers are nowhere near as intelligent as a 5-year-old.

So I have managed to live comfortably with computers for over 20 years. They have been part of my life, and I have not seen them as a threat. But today I was hit by this thought. It’s OK to use a computer as a tool – but it is quite a different thing to allow a computer to do your work while your mind goes off on a vacation.

So wake up, citizens of planet Earth. Use a computer was a tool to unlock and explore your own creativity.

(If computers are creative, why didn’t mine take over and write this column without my having to think about it?)

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