It has been said that computers will rule the world. I’m not so sure about that. It only seems that way because we have allowed them into every aspect of our lives. If all the computers disappeared or stopped working, we would adapt. It’s the cell or mobile phones we would have trouble giving up. It might take a while, but we could adapt.
Computers run our banking; keep track of our appointments and the maintenance of our cars. There are computers in cars that will email you if the oil gets low. I find my car annoying when it sounds an alarm when the windshield washer fluid is low. Having it nag me by email would drive me over the edge. Still, it is useful to know when to change the oil, when to put air in the tires and whatever else the car would tell me to do. We have become slaves to our machines. Maybe the computers have already taken over.
This is the stuff science fiction is made of. The takeover was so subtle we didn’t even notice it. Now that I think about it, mobile computing should have clued me into the takeover. After all, what is a cell phone nowadays? It’s a computer. You can play games on them, talk to other people on them send emails and instant messages. The revolution has come and we are fallen. Our cars tell us when to do routine maintenance; they inform us of news, weather and traffic conditions on the road ahead. They tell us where to go.
This is disturbing. The revolution was so gradual we missed it completely. Still, I think we would be able to adapt if the computers all went down. We would miss our little electronic friends, but we would be able to get along without them. We have survived without them for many thousands of years. The computer, as we know it, has only been with us for around sixty years, if you start with the early mainframes. If you want to start with the desktop computer the time drops to a couple of decades.
I read somewhere that the computer that controlled the Apollo LM was not as powerful as a smart phone. It’s amazing we made it to the Moon. That’s what we say, but is that true? Computers were mainframes in those days. There were few, if any, that were freestanding desktops. They hadn’t taken over at that time. We got to the Moon without them.
Getting to the Moon was an achievement, even if the public was not fully aware of how dangerous that mad dash to beat the Soviets to the lunar surface was. That’s why I think we could get along without them, but it wouldn’t be easy. We are addicted to instant gratification these intricate machines provide. If you are not sure about something, pop onto the Internet and check on it.
We could learn to rely on books again. We could learn the patience required to send paper mail, or snail mail, as we call it now. We wouldn’t like it, but we could do it. We’d suffer the most in areas of our lives that involve the movement and tracking of money. After all, that is the main reason we invented computers, so we could keep track of our money.
I know that the first computers are said to have been used in the eighteen hundreds to count people in the census, but that was a primitive computer based on controlling machines for looms. The looms made money for their owners. If a loom could be mechanized, you could make more cloth using fewer workers. This lowered manufacturing costs while increasing output thus raising profits. Even the use of this technology on the census involved money. The government had to know where you were in order to tax you; they also needed to know where to spend money. That is the reason for the census. That computer, as primitive as it was, made it easier for the government to learn how many people lived where, for taxation, and what areas of the country needed what in terms of government services. Government followed where business led.
Business exists to make money. Computers help them to do that efficiently. That’s why we invented computers, so we could make more money. The faster the computer, the faster it could make money. That’s why we are in the mess we are in today. We are outrunning our resources. Computers are helping us to do that. In that respect, computers are not helping humankind. In another sense, they can help us help ourselves. There is a new computer model of the atmosphere, which can help us figure out how the climate is changing. That can help us determine how we can adapt so that our species survives. Computers are a wonderful tool to help us survive. We no longer rely on our hunting skill, which is probably not a good thing, but we do have our brains and the computer is a tool that we can use to design better ways to adapt to our environment, no matter how it changes. That’s good, assuming we use our heads about how we use the computer. It can do calculations much faster than most humans can.
The computer is an excellent tool. We have to remember that they are tools for us to use, and not use them as a form of entertainment, too much. Some entertainment is inevitable, but we originally designed our computers to assist us in our endeavors to make our lives easier.
If we rely on them exclusively, however, we stand to lose in over time. Computers can make us lazy. Much as television turned us into couch potatoes, so the computer has turned us into non-thinkers. The information age has put information at our fingertips, we no longer have to go out and find the information in a library. Search engines eliminate the need for us to think about where our information might be hidden. In that respect, computers may doom us all to a fantastic rut where ideas are not born, but merely rehashed.