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CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW

Machine Takeover

Peter M. Will

Vol. 66, No. 4 (July–August 1978)

MACHINE TAKEOVER: The Growing Threat to Human Freedom in a Computer-Controlled Society. Frank George. 193 pp. Pergamon Press, 1977. $13 cloth, $6.50 paper.

George’s latest book contains strong stuff, as the subtitle indicates, and is well worth reading, not only by computer scientists. The author divides his argument into two parts. First, he deals with the threat due to the existence of large databases, the low security of access to them, and the real and potential blackmail thus made possible. George has read widely on the subject, and his quotations from the literature plus his own opinions make this a good source book to lead the interested reader more deeply into the subject. In discussing what he calls the databank and the “cocktail party” societies, George is a keen observer of current and future concerns and can be faulted only for his consistent and deep pessimism. He often writes of the loss of our dreams.

The second major point the book deals with is the question of what would happen if Artificial Intelligence comes to pass and takes over the world. George feels that the end result would be totalitarianism and offers the thought that in principle all the components of intelligent systems are present and just need integration. Here, he wanders off base. The reader should consult the recent books by Dreyfus, Weizenbaum, and Boden for different views.

The book is curiously dated, to contemporary American eyes. It nowhere mentions the microprocessor and its proliferation via the home computer—a development that is liable to change society in far more profound ways than the databank. As others have pointed out, this home computer and terminal could bring about full, participative democracy if used properly. Perhaps in five or ten years a book will be written on “The Growing Enhancement of Freedom in a Computer-Based Society.” Hope springs eternal, and perhaps George can regain his dream.—Peter M. Will, T. J. Watson Research Center, IBM, Yorktown Heights, NY


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