W.H. Ware

The Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, California

I very much appreciated the opportunity of speaking last year at the Kingston Conference on Information and Personal Privacy.(2) I also appreciate that opportunity to talk again about essentially the same subject: computers in our society. I feel very much indebted to Canada and its professional and learned societies for stimulating me twice in slightly over a year to organize my thoughts on this matter. I probably would not have done so otherwise, given the normal press of business. Also, I'm getting very fond of the idea of coming to Canada every springtime.

(1) Presented at the June 6-9, 1971, meeting of the Royal Society of Canada, held at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

(2) Convened by the Canadian Government, the Conference was held at Queens College, Kingston, Ontario, on May 21-24, 1970. See W.H. Ware, "Computer Data Banks and Security Controls," P-4329, The Rand Corporation, March 1970.

Today, I would like to 'describe' briefly some of the reasons why the computer has attained its present position relative to society and to suggest ways in which it is already touching the life of each individual -- in some cases very extensively, sometimes for good, sometimes with ominous overtones. I want to indicate why I think there is a problem, and if my discussion is persuasive, I will succeed in making you realize that the problem is real -- and is here now.

Let's begin by asking the question: Why is it that information has become so increasingly important to society? Some of man's needs increase roughly with his numbers. Food and clothing arc obvious examples; approximately twice as many people will require twice as much food. Other needs, too, increase with the number of societal units. For example, as the number of families increase, so does the demand for housing and household appliances. But the information needs or society are multiplying much more rapidly. Take, for example, your own case: How many credit cards do you have? insurance policy accounts? bank or other financial accounts? magazine subscriptions? Do they number fifteen? twenty-five? fifty? Each one of these represents an information packet of some kind that has to be dealt with. Thus, any one of us is responsible for increasing the information needs of society by a few tenfold. Even if the need for information is proportional to the number of individuals, it has a very large multiplicative factor. One might even argue that information need is related to all the possible interactions that can take place among societal units. If so, society's information requirements are increasing according to some combinatorial function. Whatever the case, society has created a vigorously expanding consumer market for information...


No comments:

Post a Comment