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Weizenbaum examines computers and society - The Tech
Q: Do you think that the computer is creating a technical elite, reinforcing old power structures, or remaking American society?

A: I think the computer has from the beginning been a fundamentally conservative force. It has made possible the saving of institutions pretty much as they were, which otherwise might have had to be changed. For example, banking. Superficially, it looks as if banking has been revolutionized by the computer. But only very superficially. Consider that, say 20, 25 years ago, the banks were faced with the fact that the population was growing at a very rapid rate, many more checks would be written than before, and so on. Their response was to bring in the computer. By the way, I helped design the first computer banking system in the United States, for the Bank of America 25 years ago.

Now if it had not been for the computer, if the computer had not been invented, what would the banks have had to do? They might have had to decentralize, or they might have had to regionalize in some way. In other words, it might have been necessary to introduce a social invention, as opposed to the technical invention.

What the coming of the computer did, "just in time," was to make it unnecessary to create social inventions, to change the system in any way. So in that sense, the computer has acted as fundamentally a conservative force, a force which kept power or even solidified power where is already existed.

Q: Did you have these concerns when you were designing the banking system?

A: Not in the slightest. It was a very technical job, it was a very hard job, there were a number of very, very difficult problems., for example, to design a machine that would handle paper checks of various sizes, some of which might have been crumpled in a person's pockets and so on, to handle those the way punch cards are handled in a punch card machine and so on. There were many very hard technical problems. It was a whale of a lot of fun attacking those hard problems, and it never occurred to me at the time that I was cooperating in a technological venture which had certain social side effects which I might come to regret. That never occured to me; I was totally wrapped up in my identity as a professional, and besides, it was just too much fun.
november 2019 by copystar
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