Mirror Magazine

10th February 2002

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Realising tomorrow's dreams today

By Harendra Alwis
We have experi enced the com munication revolution first hand so much so that what we have heard and read about it is of little importance to us. So I would not attempt to talk about the technicalities of Information Technology. What I would like to do instead is to set sail on a short journey through the realities that the advent of Information Technology has brought about and try to envision the future of IT in the eyes of our imagination. 

The computer is undoubtedly the most influential invention the human mind ever devised in its entire existence and probably in that of planet Earth. 

The communication revolution has changed the way we talk, eat, think, go shopping, get medical assistance, work, make war, make friends and find love. It is foolish to think of the advancement of IT as merely 'technological development'. 

The social and moral implications of the communication revolution have made such drastic changes in our social lives that we tend to accept them as part of day-to-day life rather than feel the changes it has brought about.Computers are flooding businesses and homes like a tidal wave that sweeps across the land engulfing everything in its path. It is a necessity as much as a fashion statement and a symbol of social standing in countries such as ours, whereas it is more or less a basic 'need' in the industrialized west. On the one hand, the advent of IT has widened opportunities to satisfy the human thirst for knowledge and freedom, but what it has also done is add fuel to our desire to remain the dominant species on Earth as we venture 'boldly where no one has gone before' to conquer the universe.

IT comes at a price - dependence. Information is now the lifeblood of society and its organizations, and our dependence grows daily with the advancement of the global information networks and multimedia. It has come to a stage where it is hard to imagine what would happen if the whole Internet ceased to function even for a day. Information as the lifeblood of society empowers those who have it and restricts those who do not. Power and wealth flow into the hands (feet' and bellies') of the 'information rich' or the 'computer literate'. Those who create and use computers effectively, climb up the social ladder, while the 'information poor' are falling further day-by-day. This is widening the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' and could ultimately pave the way to social turmoil in the future.In society, we exist as digital icons. In the virtual cyber worlds, we are reduced to mere numbers such as credit card numbers or bank account numbers, which represent us within computers. We rely on such computerized icons to be able to function successfully. Without them, we become non-citizens with little hope of opportunities for success or of help in times of need.

User friendly computers - the true meaning of the phrase has always eluded us. Our potential to use computers effectively has been obstructed by the fact that we have had to learn complex 'code' in order to do so. There have been efforts in recent times though to turn tables and make the computers learn our language rather that us switching to binary. (If one gives serious thought, we have had to learn the ways of the 'stupid' machines rather that the machine learning from human intelligence). The amount of work we have had to put in to get a computer to do a simple task has been quite substantial. As a result the importance of artificial intelligence has been emphasized today more than ever and efforts to make computers truly serve their purpose are gathering momentum. 

One substantial breakthrough in the field of Artificial Intelligence may turn the computer into a whole new invention. It will do what the jet engine did to aviation. The Concordes and the Blackbirds of IT will change the outlook, form and use of computers and our lifestyles forever.

Information Technology is best compared to a tree with its roots running through every aspect of the society and culture it is planted on. IT draws its nutrients from society, but it enriches its people in return and holds them together firmly by fostering effective communication between them reducing social erosion. The world depends on its fruits for economical and cultural growth and its leaves for shade from market extremities.The problems arise when the branches grow beyond the size that its trunk or roots could support. The slightest wind could uproot it. 

The fact that IT is a powerful tool is undisputed, as much as the fact that it could also be misused. Malicious documents and programs, offensive or unauthorized communication and pornography hinder the optimal use of IT in its desired purposes. For this reason the importance of computer ethics has been sounded time and again and it has now been turned into a specialized field of study even at graduate and postgraduate level. This is one of the many examples of the constant process of diversification Information Technology is going through, creating new career opportunities for creative minds. In the future these ethics will have to be turned into rules, regulations and laws, and their implementation will be a challenge for the IT professionals of tomorrow.It is from this platform that we look into the future, to a time where computers will not be limited to a box and a monitor sitting on a desk with a keyboard and mouse. Computers will be part of our lives, and we will talk to them in much the same way we talk to our friends. Man and machine will gossip about the morning news headlines, and computers will do the shopping for us and manage our appointments. They will read our mail to us and put the children to bed and read bedtime stories for them. The true power behind this marvellous invention may one day be realized and utilized for the benefit of all human kind. As I hinted at the beginning, the 'future' has only the limits and boundaries of our imagination. 

If you think that these are just dreams - well maybe so, but the IT professionals of tomorrow will have the power to make them come true. If we have the power to dream, and the courage to realize their hidden meaning, we all could wake up to a better tomorrow.

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