The computer is radically changing traditional concepts of work. Here's how you will be affected.
ISN'T IT incredible? On one hand the world enjoys an unprecedented zenith of technological advancement, yet on the other hand humanity stands on the verge of nuclear annihilation. What a paradox that man has succeeded in building computers that have tailored a new scientific age, but at the same time man has failed to solve social evils!
Dawn of a New Age?
Computers are making strong inroads into nearly every aspect of life. Some find the prospect exciting — others find it unnerving. The fact is that the ability to use a computer is rapidly becoming a job requirement. For example, about 75 percent of all jobs in the United States within the next two years will involve computers. In other countries similar shifts toward computerization are expected. Computers are being invited into the home, under the guise of video games or budget planners. They may serve to monitor a domestic security system, turn on the coffee pot, regulate the thermostat or manage the business portfolio. Offices, including our own Plain Truth offices, are being invaded by increasing numbers of computers posing as word processors. One magazine reported that in the U.S., about 10 percent of the typewriters in the 500 largest industrial organizations have so far been replaced by such equipment. Computer manufacturers are delighted by the new revenues. In only 40 years since the inception of digital computers, the electronic machines have flooded the marketplace, the work environment, the domestic scene — no aspect of one's daily activities goes untouched. Not only do computers help regulate air traffic, navigate spacecraft and manufacture automobiles, they now forecast weather and monitor your bank balance — as well as facilitate correction of typographical errors in magazine articles like this one! Whether you live in South Africa, Switzerland or the South Pacific, computers probably make transactions quick, convenient and reliable, every time you place a travel reservation, buy clothing at a department store or food at a grocery market.
Israel, France, West Germany, the People's Republic of China, among others, are scrambling to develop their own microchip industries and to keep their people employed in the burgeoning fields that computer science opens up. World leaders, including those in the Soviet Union, are aware that computers are essential if they want to compete in the frenzied international economic scene. But what effect is this all having on the individual human being? A study into computers' potential by the Japan Information Processing Development Center was completed just two years ago. It points to industry converting to an "information — based economy less dependent on imported raw materials and energy." A similar survey and conclusion occurred in France. There, in 1976, President Valery Giscard d'Estaing ordered the Inspector General of Finance to analyze the impact of the computer on French society. The Inspector General even then concluded that changes had already begun a decrease in goods — producing jobs, an increase in jobs in the service sector and many more activities in which information is the raw material. Gradually, industrial jobs as we have known them will play a smaller role. We are heading into a society based significantly on information. The Wall Street Journal quoted one computer expert as saying, "Information is becoming our most valuable commodity." But a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer professor places firm limits on this proposal: "The assertion that all human knowledge is encodable in streams of zeros and ones — philosophically, that's very hard to swallow. In effect, the whole world is made to seem computable. This generates a kind of tunnel vision, where the only problems that seem legitimate are problems that can be put on a computer. " Absolutely true — the most important knowledge is not encodable — it is revealed spiritual knowledge. That kind of knowledge we give you freely in The Plain Truth. Nevertheless, our readers should know how to cope even with material knowledge and the technological changes taking place around them. We must now face the fact that in the U.S. work force, for example, only 13 percent are employed in manufacturing, while some 60 percent either produce or process information. Just 10 years ago computers were limited to big business and data processing centers. Today more than half of all Americans earn their living exchanging various types of information — and the computer helps immensely. One major result has been more jobs available for women — a trend that will continue. Computerized automation is shifting manufacturing and industry from the United States and developed countries to Third World nations where labor is cheaper. "We are in a 'megashift' from an industrial to an information — based society," states John Naisbitt in Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. "By the year 2000 the Third World will be manufacturing as much as 30 percent of the world's goods." A group of U.S. Congressmen commissioned a study into the American work force and discovered that 20 to 30 million U.S. workers will be displaced from their jobs, as manufacturing companies — auto, steel and rubber industries — are forced to turn to automation and relinquish actual production to foreign competition. "The speed and force of this change will be awesome," the report declared, especially in the psychological and emotional shock of those who fear they may not find employment again. Thousands of new jobs, however, will be created mostly in information systems, says Fortune magazine, "but they'll be so different that today's laid-off worker will be hard pressed to fill them." The new brand of computer technology will not only affect engineers and scientists. It will also affect the physician, the lawyer, the executive, the administrator, the salesman, the designer whether in the factory, the office, the laboratory or the classroom. The application of computer technology to office and factory will affect almost every job and almost every aspect of work. One study of help-wanted advertisements in the New York Times showed that jobs requiring some form of computer literacy doubled from 1977 to 1982. Five years ago, none of the listings for travel agents mentioned a thing about computer-related skills, reports Science Digest. Last year 71 percent required the ability to operate computer-based reservations systems. Secretary-typist jobs that demanded word processing skills went from zero to 15 percent in the same period.. How will the computer explosion affect you? It will fundamentally change the relationship between a worker and his or her task. Work becomes abstract, the electronic manipulation of symbols. Skilled workers will be required to handle information on paper and in computers rather than take a direct hand in producing goods robots will do much of that. As robotics take over certain dull, mundane jobs, more highly trained personnel will be needed to maintain, repair, program and supervise the machines. People prepared for new jobs will find factory work freed from much of the curse of dull repetition, leaving workers more time to be creative. Time will tell whether that creativity will be used in this age of man for good or for selfishness and greed — thereby multiplying unhappiness! For those not willing to accept the challenge, the change will be painful. Middle-aged blue-collar workers who know only welding or painting may not be easily trainable for the new role.
To participate fully in an information society, computer literacy will be as important as reading literacy. All this, of course, if the nations can prevent war in the meantime. In his book The Unprepared Society, Donald N. Michael wrote, "Ignorance of computers will render people functionally illiterate as does ignorance of reading, writing and arithmetic." Computer literacy is the fourth basic skill, says one innovative school superintendent, who wants his students to be as comfortable using the computer as their parents are using pencils, paper and books. "We all have to lose our awe of this tool, the computer," declared a university professor. "We are no longer in awe of the telephone or the electric drill." The worker's first survival skill will be knowing how to operate keyboards and computers of all kinds for many purposes. What if you have been out of school or college for many years and your employer has no retraining program? You will have to take steps yourself to become computer literate. In Minnesota, for example, teachers are taking computer literacy courses on their own time, without pay. Since most countries are unprepared to retrain their work forces, national strategies for retraining displaced workers cannot be relied upon. Computer literacy — that is, in short, being knowledgeable about the computer world — will become a prime job requirement. How can you prepare for the future, even if others don't?
Acquiring the New Literacy
The most common misconception appears to be that one must know how to program a computer in order to use it at all. That is not true. One should know how computers and programs work, but need not know how to design either — just as a racecar driver understands his machine, but need not be a mechanic or roadway designer. With rising numbers of programmers on the job, thousands of programs — the operational material (software) that tells the computer what to do — have already been written and are ready for use. Programmers use math, common sense and logic to write programs in a computer language, but you need not repeat this process in order to use the software. Designers try to make their software as easy to understand as possible. For instance, in some systems, type 0 and you can open a file that contains your manuscript, budget, listing or appointment schedule. Type a P and your file prints out on a connected printer in a fraction of the time it would take you to type it on a typewriter. Type X to exit the computer. Admittedly, some programs are not that easy to operate. And computer literacy means more than tapping a few letters on a keyboard. Some computer scientists sum up computer literacy like this: "Learn enough about a programming language to write a simple program, be able to do word processing (edit, move and print out text), draft a simple budget using calculation-type software and know the principles behind the terms such as magnetic tape, compiler, CRT, disk drives, terminals, hardware, memory and others." Another professional says literacy should mean being able to use a computer as an everyday tool to solve problems and to do the tasks that help you the most. It should mean being comfortable with a computer keyboard. Living in a computerized society will require one to think even more about and assess unfamiliar concepts, to reason and draw conclusions, to make judgments then act on the new understanding. One expert says the intelligent person of the future will be the one who will be able, with a computer's help, to locate information, not store it in his head. Merely reading or hearing about computers, however, does not constitute literacy any more than reading about numbers makes students mathematically literate. You learn by hands-on operation. If you don't have access to a computer, try enrolling in a computer course at a college or trade school, or join a community computer club. If you are in college, study major disciplines of mathematics, computer science, electronic engineering even satellite engineering. Or, if you have to, march into a computer store and declare, "I know nothing about computers can you please show me how they work?" If there's a computer in your office, ask if someone may teach you about its operation. One study estimates office workers today could save 15 percent of their time if they only used the technology now available. Perhaps a computer is available for you.
Down the Road...
The forecasts for the next five to seven years are that about a half million computers will be in U.S. schools alone. Technology may soon be available for travelers to plug their pocket-size computer to a synthesized knowledge bank for instant facts about subjects ranging from finance and sports to statistics and health. Japanese specialists toil toward a projected 1990 goal, when they will unveil a Fifth Generation Computer — a "world brain" containing one million transistors on a single silicon chip the size of a pinhead. This new phase of computer, it is hoped, will converse with humans in Japanese, English and German and supply expert services in law, medicine and economics. The Japanese government would use the Fifth Generation Computer "to boost industrial competitiveness worldwide, save energy and address social problems... a quest for global supremacy in the information field." Global supremacy would give the Japanese a hold — not on food or weapons — but on information. "Whoever has a grip on information management will direct a lot of where we go and the bridges that get us there," says Michael Dertouzos, one of America's premier computer scientists. But computers' artificial intelligence cannot rival human ability to think creatively.
The Missing Dimension
Herbert A. Simon, who won the 1978 Nobel prize in economics and research into the decision-making process, believes all sorts of improvements in human affairs can come about if we are able to enhance human thinking power with large amounts of computer thinking power. "After all, there's a lot more thinking in the world that needs to be done than gets done. Using computers, we'll make a lot of decisions more sensibly," says Mr. Simon. Missing from this observation, however, is the spiritual dimension. The underlying causes of man's greatest problems cannot be solved on a computer. No computer program dealing with only material elements can solve problems that are based not on material but on spiritual causes. The ultimate source for solving earth's monumental problems is God and his revealed knowledge the Bible. That's the message of The Plain Truth.