A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF THE
LELAND H. WILLIAMS*
is a strong word - one which implies turbulence, upheaval, force, drastic
change. It is sometimes
The industrial revolution, with its steadily evolving automatic machinery had the effect of releasing man from a great deal of physical labor. It was claimed that using men to control the machines was a more human use of human beings. This was certainly so; but now electronic computers have provided the means for more precise machine control than man is capable of performing. One effect of the computer revolution will be to release man from a great deal of such mental labor. In much the same way as machines are amplifiers of man's muscle, computers are amplifiers of man's brain. Perhaps a more important effect will be the provision for control calculations too complicated and too long for man to, perform, thus making possible new types of industrial processes.
To understand these
effects, we need to examine the computer in more detail. While it is true that a
computer is a machine which can do arithmetic very rapidly, this is far from the
whole truth. The fastest present day machines can do arithmetic about one
hundred million (108) times as fast as a man with pencil and paper or about 10
million (107) times as fast as a man with an electric desk calculator. No other
socio-economic revolution has ever been caused by a technological change of such
vast proportions. Whole new effects are produced by so vast a change. For
example, nuclear physicists are now attacking problems requiring as much as one
hour of calculation on the fastest machines. This is equivalent to about 10,000
man-years of pencil and paper work. Obviously
such a problem could not have been attacked without the new computer technology. Space flight represents
another such problem for a rather different reason. It is quite possible for men tG calculate satellite orbits
and the necessary thrust to achieve them, but to do so in the very short time available before, for example,
an orbit becomes hopelessly parabolic requires an electronic computer.
Another important new effect of the new computer technology is the development of computer programs
which do things previously regarded as belonging solely in the realm of human intelligence. Some examples
are checkers playing programs, chess playing programs, a program (called STUDENT) which can solve a certain class of algebra word problems and a program (called SAINT) which can find the indefinite integrals of certain functions. (SAINT made a B on the M.I.T.
*Leland 1-1. Williams is Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Assistant Director of the Computing Center, Florida State University.
freshman calculus examination.) These developments have sparked a debate as to whether or not computers can think. This debate is really the subject of another discussion, but a few remarks can be made. The debate cannot be resolved primarily because no generally acceptable definition of "thinking" has been formulated. While it is true that computers are being made to do quite useful tasks previously done only by humans who achieved satisfaction from their efforts, careful analysis will show that these tasks are all reducible to syntactic manipulation of symbols. However "thinking" is defined, it must involve more than this. Furthermore, man's creation in the image of God surely implies mental abilities not capable of reproduction by man himself in an assortment of transistors and diodes.
We must turn now from the detailed effects of the new computer technology to that composite effect called the computer revolution. Many jobs, presently held by men and women have been taken over by computers and automatic machinery. Completely or partially automated production facilities are envisaged in many industries such as steel," textiles, printing, and baking. Indeed some almost completely automated plants exist already. The computer controlled machinery can do a better job and do it more efficiently. Computers are assuming bookkeeping and inventory control tasks in many businesses. Using a computer, a business executive can have immediate instead of days or week old inventory information. It is difficult to assess the ultimate effect of these incipient developments. But, responsible people (and this had better include Christian people) must attempt the assessment because the ultimate effect has the potential of catastrophe if not properly anticipated.
Clearly, some new human jobs are being created because of the computer revolution, but equally clearly, many old jobs are disappearing. Some responsible people including computer consultants, scientists, labor leaders, clergymen, sociologists, economists, and others are predicting that jobs will disappear in such large numbers that the only solution to the resulting socio-economic problem will be a guaranteed, government supplied income for each citizen as a matter of right. Christian society must not accept this solution without asking some fundamental questions. The solution assumes that there is no basic relationship between a man's job (or his contribution to society) and his dignity (or psychological and spiritual well being) other than that implied by his wages. The Bible has something important to say about this. The Bible teaches that man was created in the image of God for the purpose of having fellowship with God. God instructed man to use all of the rest of creation for the good of man. Interpreted at the level of all of man, this would imply God's blessing upon the use of machines to release man from physical labor and the use of computers to release man from mental labor. This is true; but it must also be interpreted at the level of each individual man, which implies that as a part of fulfilling his intended relationship with God each man must make a contribution to society. Unfortunately most people will not contribute to society unless they are motivated by need for an income or by force. Certainly the need for an income is the more preferable motivation. Thus, society must encourage the development of jobs which provide for the really human use of human beings-jobs which require relationships with other humans, jobs which require semantic manipulation of symbols.
There is one other consideration. The computer revolution is certainly going to accelerate the trend toward more leisure time. More to the point, a new group of people will begin to enjoy significant amounts of leisure time. For this leisure time to be constructively used, it is important, even urgent, that Christian churches, Christian sociologists, Christian educators, and other concerned groups seek to instill in the coming generation a set of values-Christian worship, Christian service, art, music, crafts, nature, etc.-which will yield that result.