Home > Geeky, Security > “Depending on the social controls that are applied…”

“Depending on the social controls that are applied…”

April 22, 2006

If you really dig technology history, you’d probably enjoy The Story Of Standards, by John Perry.  He told an engaging history of how all the industrial standards that supprt our technical culture came into existence – at least up until 1955 when the book was published.  In the last chapter, as tech writers are wont to do, he made some wild guesses about the future.  In the chapter “Machines with memories”, he wrote:

Science fiction writers have portrayed the mechanized society as wholly regimented and standardized.  Some of the men who best know what computers can do are equally pessimistic and with better reason.  Most of us are uneasy about invasions of privacy: wire-tapping, interception of mail, questioning of neighbors, and other techniques of the investigator.  We are made uncomfortable by the knowledge that our dossiers are kept in official and semi-official places, where information, accurate or otherwise, is accumulated.

Computers could well be used as super-investigators, keeping on tap a permanent record of almost anything we say or do within the field of perception of any computer or its auxillaries.  From schools, courts, license bureaus, credit agencies, employers, hotels, department stores, bureaus of taxation, newspapers, organization files, voting lists, and hundreds of other sources, a dossier could be compiled by pushing a few buttons…

This won’t happen in five years, thought some of the essential pieces of the picture are rapidly becoming quite real.  It may never happen but it could.  Of course the machines won’t be to blame.

Of themselves the computers will only do what they’re told to do.  The point is, however, that they are enormously powerful information processors.  Like all instruments of power, how they are used depends on what social controls are applied.  Thus far man’s record of devising and using social controls of such magnitude is rather spotty.
- John Perry, The Story Of Standards 1955 Funk & Wagnalls Co., pg 249

OK, he could spot the dystopian possibilities, but… debit cards!

You seldom have to write a check, and you seldom need cash.  Slipping your plate into a slot at any store, restaurant, or ticket office makes the purchase and transfers the money automatically.  If you travel on expense account, you carry a second plate, which will charge to your employer’s account only the kind of expenses he authorizes…

…and optical data storage, online libraries, the ascendence of the computer to primacy as a communications device and lots, lots more.  Not too shabby.

By the way, according to Harper’s Index, the state of Minnesota sells its drivers’ license database to just about any company with $1,500.  Last year, 800 companies purchased the database.


Categories: Geeky, Security