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The FUNdamentals of Computers and Society
Technology changes society. Whether fire, wheels, guns or skyscrapers, all have made a massive difference to the way we work, live and play. Computer technology is accelerating the change and raising whole new issues society has to tackle. It stretches the limits of the law - if you steal someone's virtual money in a virtual world are you a thief?It raises new ethical questions - when is it ethical to pose as someone else online? It affects our privacy - would you be happy if your kid brother could check exactly what you were doing on that date by tapping into all those CCTV cameras and webcams, watching your every move from his mobile, wherever you went...whatever you did? What if any body could do it, anytime, anywhere just by typing in your name? All this is technically feasible. Should it be made possible? Who should decide?
No, I don't want a date
Technology changes the way we live our lives in obvious ways but also in much more subtle ways. Predict the subtleties before they are obvious and you could be the person responsible for the next big thing that immediately becomes indispensable. You need a really good understanding of people and how society ticks if you are to do that due to more than just luck though.
The new wild west
In the wild west, justice was delivered at the end of a gun. It was a lawless place where anarchy and brute force ruled ... until the federal government rode in and enforced the law.
Or was it really like that? That may be the Hollywood myth, but some argue that what actually happened was the everyday citizens tamed the west themselves by working together to invent a suitable system of law and then enforce it. Some think the Internet is similar to the Wild west frontier - a lawless place full of viruses and worms, overloaded by scam emails and spam, zombies and spybots: crimes that could never exist before. What is best? Should the governments of the world wade in and enforce their laws (deporting you to the US for trial perhaps) even if you are some where else, or is the virtual world best left to regulate itself?
Take a tour at some of the new kinds of crime... if we don't defeat this new virtual lawlessness the Internet could become useless...unless the computer scientists help the new online communities to devise ways to protect themselves and to enforce justice.
Supporting Cultures not Destroying them
Computer technology can change society for the better or it can destroy the things we value. Some think the Internet will lead to local languages and cultures disappearing. Maybe it can save them from extinction. Others think whole new sub-cultures will emerge. Some people don't think it matters. Others care deeply. Some think it supports democratic freedom and is helping the voices of protesters round the world be heard. Others that it is being used to suppress them. Murderers can use it to show their executions. Charities use it to raise awareness of the plight of Africa. The Web can be used for evil or good. Ultimately, its not the technology that decides. It is not the people who invent the technologies, either. We all do. Society.