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What are the drawbacks in this scramble to jump on the technology bandwagon in which the microchip is a key component to practically everything we do? This new information revolution is comparable to the industrial revolution, only far more wide-ranging in its effects. Information replaces raw materials as the driving force of successful world economics. In future, individuals and countries will only be as good as the marketable skills and knowledge they have accumulated. You are what you know.
But at the other end of the scale, a new underclass is being created in Britain. A survey published in November 1996 reported that 40% of the population did not regularly use any of the weapons of the information revolution such as computers or mobile phones. 80% did not know how to get connected to the Internet, and of those online, only 9% used it regularly. Worse still is the social profile: only 9% of the working people (the C2/E/Ds of the socio-economic grading) have ever used the Internet, compared with 25% of the middle and upper classes.
This paints a depressing picture of a new two-nation Britain even more polarised in terms of access to the advantages of the information age than the monetary gulf between the rich and the poor that so shamed the eighties. The dream of a new age of equal opportunities for all once again appears to be foundering. Just as in mediaeval times when many of the great cathedrals were built, the Freemasons represented an elite body of people with specialist skills in stonemasonry, which they jealously guarded; so today with ICT skills are the indispensable builders of the information age.
8. The dangers A reliance on technology brings with it unavoidable dangers. Faulty hospital equipment that delivers the wrong dose of radiation, ‘fly-by-wire’ aircraft that develop hardware or software faults and fall out of the sky, software bugs that corrupt data held in massive databases, are just some of the catastrophes that can result from our dependence on technology wonders. 9. Case study: Charity database corrupted.
George is a computer consultant who recently travelled to London to arrange some consultancy work with a large national charity, with annual donations of 2. 5 million, and a donor database of nearly half a million people worldwide. George was asked to investigate methods of speeding up data entry but, when he examined the application, he discovered that the software had been written some 7 years previously and added to by well-meaning volunteers at different times to cope with each new need.
They were using Version 1 of the database software, since superseded by version 2. 0, 2. 1 and 3. 1…. 6. He took the details of what was required, and went home to prepare a quote. One problem was that this version of the software was no longer available and he only had a much more up-to-date version. This meant the work would have to be done on-site, which would mean travelling up to London every day instead of making the changes on his home PC and going up once to install them.
Also, knowing that the early software had suffered from many bugs, he asked whether they had ever experienced problems with data corruption. The boss was not sure. A week later he received a panic call from the charity. They had just sent out a major mailshot, and now discovered that thousands of people on the database had somehow been given identical ‘unique’ reference numbers’. Their backup copies all showed the same problem. It would now be impossible to update the correct donor’s record when a donation was received.