Impact And History Of Computers

  • Post last modified:24 March 2022
  • Reading time:35 mins read

Computer Technology

Let us start by understanding the concept of computer technology. Quickly, in 30 seconds, calculate the answer to 12 + 54 + 23.65 + 12.89 + 23¼ + 90 + 12 + 980 + 234 + 567 in your head or on paper. Did you complete it in time ? See the next page for the answer.

You may be surprised to learn that people were the first computers! The term computer means someone who computes or performs calculations. Centuries ago, people were called computers. They were usually women who worked out mathematical problems such as tidal charts or navigational tables, and so ‘Computer’ was actually a job title.

However, as you can imagine, performing mathematical tasks every day, every week, every month would eventually cause boredom which would cause errors in the calculations.

Therefore, the computer became a machine which automated these repetitive tasks.

A computer therefore is a machine which:

  • accepts data (called INPUT);
  • follows instructions given on what to do with the data (called PROCESSING);
  • stores the results for future use (called STORAGE); and
  • display the results (called OUTPUT).

Answer : 2008.79

By applying technology to different problems and work environments we can enhance situations or events that would have been almost inconceivable without it. For example, voice mail, satellite television or cell phones are all examples of technology that use a computer to operate the system.

Computer technology therefore involves any machine, tool or piece of equipment that is essentially controlled by a computer chip that is able to make calculations. The role of computers and computer technology is the ability to manipulate data into information or commands.

Data can be in many forms, such as text, pictures or sound and can also be retrieved from the environment. An air conditioner which monitors the temperature in a room to keep it cool at a specific temperature, or turning on lights outside a building at dusk are both examples of a computer–controlled environment that requires input to produce a specific result or output.

Air Conditioner Automated Lights
Input Current Temperature Dusk
Desired Temperature
Output AC adjusts temperature to Lights On
desired temperature

Computer Technology is Everywhere

Information has become very important as a result of the computer technology which provides it. Computer driven technology is an integral part of our daily routines, however we tend not be aware of its presence. Many of our daily tasks are automated; such as our answering machines, televisions, cable boxes, vehicles that use this technology.

Similarly, as a cashier prints out our receipt for a purchased item or the mail, we receive that was stamped by a machine, computer technology supported the creation of the receipt or the delivery of our mail automatically. We therefore say that computer technology is ubiquitous, or everywhere (almost!) once information is present.

To summarize, many utility companies are now recording our usage to prepare monthly bills, which will be printed by a machine, while a local or overseas phone company record voice messages and the calls we missed. Also, our banks’ automated systems are automatically charging us every time we use the debit or credit card.

The automated systems are controlled by a computer process based on the input from your retailer, the machine itself or from the scanner.

Generating Information

Remember that computers store the results or output of processing the data. Well computer technology has enabled us to access information at our “finger tips”; from many places, in many places, at any time, and in many different forms whether printed or stored. Hence as more information is requested, more information is generated and more data stored.

It seems like a never–ending cycle of information growing exponentially! Unfortunately, there is a drawback to generating information on every transaction. Imagine how one minor error can mushroom into major problems because of your computer technology, and this can have a negative impact on businesses and customers alike.

In addition, most people who are not in the computer field may believe that whatever the computer produces is correct. Consider the consequences of transposing (switching) two digits in a bank account number or entering the wrong data in payroll system.

This can cause embarrassment to the persons involved if deposits are made to the wrong account or employees do not receive the correct pay. Even so, it is also more difficult to locate someone who is willing to accept responsibility for an error made by a computerized system.

This lack of accountability for the error would be better addressed if the software glitch was corrected as soon as possible!

We should also realize that since information is constantly generated, then it should be possible to store it over a long period of time. It is reasonable to assume therefore that information cannot be entirely destroyed or lost.

Accessing Information

Much of the computer information that is generated and held in a database is available online. For example, customers can use the telephone or Internet to access current bank balances and perform transactions. Access to your banking information can be made from almost anywhere in the world.

This has led to a new work ethic where computer technology has enabled employees to work from various geographic locations, or time zones. Computer technology has provided people with increased mobility while talking with someone on the phone, or receiving a fax.

Information can be retrieved and sent in many forms including text, voice, graphics, photos and video. Additionally, the “information superhighway” has increased the availability of these forms of information delivery methods. One major concern of the recording industry is the ability to reproduce digital material such as video tapes and DVDs, which are indistinguishable from the original.

This technology has caused headaches to the industry’s composers and performers since any digital file can be easily duplicated and shared. With access to information, and digital voice and smart technologies automated voices have replaced operators who traditionally greeted customers and initially responded to their queries.

It is now commonplace to call businesses and hear an automated switching system and voice–mail system instead of an actual person who can assist you.

Surveillance

Computer technology has certainly allowed surveillance or the gathering of information for different of purposes. Surveillance software allows individuals, companies and government to monitor you in a variety of locations including other countries.

Surveillance equipment such as cameras and key pads now include transactional data which is collected from virtually all types of transactions, including cash purchases and the acquisition of services to analyze trends.

One example is the use of Google Earth to capture topographical pictures of different locations on the earth and more recently Google has released their street view software that allows you to wander the streets of your city using 3D technologies.

Changing the Way, We Communicate

With the use of the computer and its technology used extensively throughout our society, you are probably aware of how computer technology has changed the way we communicate with another person or among groups of people. The use of email, instant messenger and text messages have modified the usual visual and verbal signs when communicating with someone else.

This of course can be both a benefit and a detriment to the communication process. For example, the use of computer tools such as IMPACT AND HISTORY OF COMPUTERS 5 email, instant messenger and text messages mask features such as gender, race, age, and physical disability, social or marital status. Even distance learning has changed the way people are educated, as this manual and your online activities illustrate! Your relationship with the facilitator is remote and you may only hear a voice or read the words on a page written by your instructor.

Much of the distance or blended learning materials and content are delivered through the use of databases, audio or video feeds and other means such as Moodle or Blackboard. This has become a reality for many who wish to further their education while employed full–time or those who are unable to access a physical campus at a local institution.


Information Technology (IT) – The Concepts

As noted in Topic 1.2 computers play a major role in our daily lives. Business demands the use of computers to support business operations. As an entrepreneur it is important that you understand and use computer technologies effectively to help grow your business.

Before exploring the details of a business computer environment, you need to understand what we mean by information technology and how it influences society.

What is information technology ?

Let’s first look at some key terms before we define the concept information technology. Let’s start with the term information. Information refers to data that has been put into a meaningful and useful context. Information systems refer to a set of people, procedures and resources that collects, transforms, and disseminates information in an organization.

Information systems are implemented within an organization for the purpose of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of that organization. As an entrepreneur you will need to use a system to provide for the flow of information within your business. Computers is playing a vital part in obtaining, processing and sharing information within a business which means that an entrepreneur will have to make use of a computer–based information system.

This requires that you must have an understanding technology used in computer–based information systems – use of hardware, software and people resources to transform data resources into information.

Back to our question

What is meant by Information Technology ? Information Technology (IT) is the area of managing technology and spans a wide variety of areas that include but are not limited to things such as processes, computer software, information systems, computer hardware, programming languages, and data constructs. In short, anything that renders data, information or perceived knowledge in any visual format whatsoever, via any multimedia distribution mechanism, is considered part of the domain space known as Information Technology (IT) (Wikipedia).

Tech America defines IT as the study, design and implementation of computer–based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware. IT deals with the use of electronic computers and computer software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit and securely retrieve information (www.answer.com).

The discipline of Information Systems can best be described as the effective analysis, design, construction, delivery, management and use of information and information technology in organizations and society. An Information System, per se, is an organized collection of people, procedures, data, machines and services that work together to deliver information (http://www.is.ru.ac.za/?q=content?2). So, we can conclude that:

Information technology (IT) refers to the different ways (electronic computers and computer software) of obtaining, processing, storing, and transmitting data in the form of voice, pictures and words.

The term Information Technology (IT) is also known as Information Communication Technology (ICT), and we shall continue to use that term henceforth because it combines computing and communications.

The computer is a key feature of ICT and the key to an effective business is how the entrepreneur uses his or her ICT resources to grow and manage the business.

It is clear from our brief discussion that computer technology plays a vital role in everyday life.

IMPACT OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY (ICT) ON SOCIETY

Today’s society is referred to as the ‘digital age’. Computers and ICT devices have become an integral part of our lives and are used everywhere. Be it the desktop computers, laptop computers or more recently tablet computers, all contribute to the activities we experience in our daily life.

We use these devices in schools, at home, hospitals, institutions, businesses and even in government offices. In general, the impact of computers on society and how we live our lives is as follows:

  • You can use computers to communicate with your family and friends, create a household budget, book travel and movie tickets, or manage your business. The internet has also tremendously increased people’s ability to communicate with others from all over the world efficiently and relatively cheaply.
  • In business and industry, you use computers to maintain accounts, create personnel records, track inventory, prepare presentations and reports, manage projects, and communicate by e–mail. You can use computers to design any type of publication ranging from simple newsletters to fashion magazines, marketing materials, books, or newspapers.
  • In the field of education, trainers can use computers to deliver training through audio–visual learning aids, maintain student records to track performance, search for information on different topics, and create or submit assignments.
  • In government organizations, you use computers to organize information by storing and updating records. Computers are also used for providing services to citizens. For example, you can view information on current policies and government issues on a computer.
  • In the field of medicine, doctors use computers to review medical records of patients. Doctors also use computers to find information about the latest drugs available to treat a disease.
  • Doctors can also use computer technology to discuss and share information about various diseases.
  • You can use computers to view the details of your bank account. Traders use computer technology to get instant information on stock markets, to trade stocks, and to manage investments.
  • Scientists use computers for scientific research, and to gather and analyze information. For example, they use computers to view images from space and to publish information on their recent research.
  • You can also use computers to create drawings and paintings. Photographers use computers to edit and enhance pictures. Writers use computers to write content for their books and to also create illustrations. By using computers, writers can make changes in the content easily and save a lot of time.
  • In the field of entertainment, you can use computers to listen to music, watch movies, store and print photographs, send greetings, and play games.

[Source : Microsoft Corporation]
Threats to Information Systems

Computer–based information systems are much more vulnerable to crime and abuse, natural disaster, and even human error than manual systems that they have replaced.

Computer Crime

Computer Crime ranges from the use of information technology to commit an act that would be criminal no matter how committed (such as the theft of money or other property) to activities more specifically related to computers, such as the unauthorized access and use of information systems,

theft of computer and telecommunications services, and the theft, intentional alteration, or destruction of data or programs. The protection of customer data and business confidential information is an issue that faces all entrepreneurs.

Theft of Money

As financial institutions become more and more reliant on computers, new opportunities have arisen for criminals to use computers to steal or siphon off money. Password protection and other security tools must be used to protect bank accounts, investments and other financial resources.

Theft of Computers and Computer Parts

As computers and the various computer parts have become smaller and smaller, it has become easier to steal. Microprocessor chips, memory chips, motherboards, modems, disk drives, and power supplies are all frequent targets. They can be removed relatively easily and sold to a readily available underground market. Physical security and effective inventory control measures should be implemented.

Alteration or Destruction of Data and Programs

Another form of computer crime involves the alteration or destruction of data and programs. Motives for this crime may include monetary gain, revenge or just being malicious. This tie in with computer viruses, which are a set of illicit instructions implanted within a program that passes itself onto other programs with which it comes into contact.

Appropriate software must be used to protect your business files, data and other online resources from external and internal attacks by cyber criminals and hackers.

System Disasters

In addition to computer crime, information systems are susceptible to natural disasters (Rain, earthquakes, fire and floods), terrorist attack, electrical power and telecommunications line failure, hardware and software malfunction, even human error. Off–site backups and in some cases backups to computers in another island or nation is recommended when your region is subjected to regular national disasters


Computer Technology in Work and Play

Now that we have understood some terminology and features of computer technology, let us look more closely at various aspects of work and play, and how technology affects each one. This section will allow discussion on some of the impacts in the last, and thoughts on the next decade.

Inventions already introduced into society through computer technology, have caused the society to change, with the cellular phone (or cell phone) being the most recent to reach the populations. It is now an everyday occurrence to reach anyone, anywhere with the use of a cellular phone.

Not as openly known, but still commonplace however, is the use of the smart prosthesis on someone who previously could not walk after an accident. Simulations of people walking or running for example have furthered the invention of essential types of prostheses.

Science, Medicine, Health and Technology

Simulation and simulators are often used in scientific research to mimic the event that is being studied. These programs quickly perform number crunching calculations, so that the event can be accelerated, slowed or changed to help predict and test certain outcomes.

Therefore, programs can assist with the simulation of training in dangerous situations, without using expensive resources. Since health care matters to everyone, it is not surprising that computer technology has become a natural part of our health and well being, but its use and relevance has implications in everything we do…and not do!

If you would like to explore how medical organizations are using simulation and other computer technologies to provide professional development to health care professionals and support science education in the schools go to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Bio–interactive site. Computer technology is integral part of the health and wellness sector.

CTI scanners and other diagnostic tools are driven by computer technology. Our health records are placed into databases to be used and retrieved when you visit the hospital or your local doctor. Science has had an incredible impact within the last century.

Toffler in his book “The Third Wave” has identified computer technology as a new phase in the evolution of society. Technology has made the following medical procedures possible. Many of these procedures have generated considerable debate about the ethics of these procedures.

Some of these procedures include the use of technology to support:

  • test tube babies;
  • organ transplants;
  • cloning;
  • nuclear radiation;
  • limb replacement;
  • gene therapy; and
  • nerve regeneration.

Telemedicine

Some of you may have previously seen or heard the terms teleconferencing or telecommuting. The Greek word ‘tele’ means ‘distance’, so teleconferencing provides opportunities to have a conference without all persons having to be in the same room, city or country.

Similarly telecommuting or the less popular term, ‘tele–working’, was first offered in the 1960s by the information technology industry. This arrangement allowed employees to work at home and communicate with the office by methods such as phone, fax and computer.

So, we now have yet another term ‘telemedicine’, where ‘medicine’. Telemedicine involves telecommunications, where medical personnel and their patients are separated by some physical distance but are connected through technology so the professional can complete a medical procedure.

Some of the services offered by telemedicine include medical diagnoses, pathology, radiology, and consultation, so that expertise can be made available in rural and remote areas.

Medical Self–Diagnoses

Many people are using knowledge–based database systems to research cures and symptoms of ailments, probably for self–diagnoses. These database systems, called expert systems perform tasks that would otherwise be performed by someone with expertise in the field.

Expert systems can be used, not only to diagnose human illnesses, but also to make financial forecasts, and schedule routes for delivery vehicles. However, it is important to note that while some expert systems replace human experts, there are others designed to assist them.

Having a medical complaint which is embarrassing should not be the sole reason to avoid consulting a doctor. Although there are well–documented and researched medical expert systems (such as WebMD) being able to access a website on the Internet to diagnose symptoms does not automatically validate the authenticity or correctness of the online diagnosis.

Only a doctor can do this. Database technologies are now used to store dental records, x–rays, medical insurance forms and other records for administrative, management and cross referencing. Here are some further examples of the development of database systems with associated technologies which are used as expert systems and have become tools for medical research.

Research Research on genetics has discovered entire sets of genetic instructions in the cells of our body, their sequences and any possible unique features or abnormalities. Using computer technology has afforded:

The discovery of a gene which has the pre–disposition to develop colon cancer can save a life if genetic screening is done early. In contrast, persons in the early 1970s were either denied insurance coverage or were asked to pay increased premiums if they carried the gene for sickle cell anemia.

Forensic personnel used computer technology to assist in the identification of people missing at the World Trade Center. Tools were used to compare the victims’ DNA with an item used by the victims, such as a toothbrush.

Education and Technology Computer technology has moved the classroom from a teacher using a ‘chalk and blackboard’ to deliver passive instruction to student centered, discovery learning environments that employ a variety of computer and Internet technologies.

Computer technology has allowed disenfranchised students in places like rural areas who at one time could not participate in traditional instruction to benefit from an anywhere, anyplace philosophy for the delivery of educational programs.

In Barbados, technology is now becoming a part of the classroom with the assistance of a government sponsored educational initiative called Edutech 2000. This programme is providing training in Information and Computer Technologies (ICTs) for teachers and students alike in order to develop the country’s future workforce and ensure the country has suitable skills to compete in the international market.

In most countries today the typical public–school program includes some instruction in computer technology, computer literacy skills and software familiarization. Most public schools throughout the Caribbean and parts of Africa have access to computers within their schools.

Technology is being used to support instruction and increase student and teacher technical knowledge and skills. The introduction of computers to support classroom instruction has met mixed reactions. Some teachers embrace it, but many resists it because they don’t have the pre–requisite skills to properly employ the technologies.

Change will take time, resources and more teacher professional development. The Commonwealth of Learning is supporting the Open School Movement and the use of ICT to support instruction and student learning. Check it out. Computer technologies and the advent of the Internet have allowed online universities to flourish.

Examples of fully online universities include Indira Gandhi National Open University, National Open University of Nigeria, Athabasca University and the Open University of the United Kingdom Online universities and similar organizations around the world provide opportunities for millions of students to study anywhere and at any time.

Working professionals are now able to further their education without having to travel while maintaining full–time employment and an appropriate quality of life. There are some disadvantages however with online activities, which include the lack of opportunity for human interaction and socialization.

Many online students experience the feeling of isolation Although the inclusion of online discussion forums and chat capabilities have somewhat alleviated this problem, there is still an issue with misinterpretation and miscommunication associated with text messages and phrases.

The online learning environment is slowly embracing new technologies like Podcasts, social networking software like Facebook, instant messaging technologies like Skype and web conferencing systems like Illuminate. Web 2.0 tools are helping close the social divide and providing more opportunities to interact with peers learners and others in the educational communities.

Business and Technology

Computer technology has had a major impact on day–to–day business operations. Today companies that have failed to incorporate technology are viewed as being ‘not–up–to–date’ or archaic. Today organizations must have a presence on the Internet.

Their company’s goods and services must be marketed online. Prolific use of electronic mail (or email) and electronic forms have replaced paper–based forms and traditional snail mail (letters mailed through a post office). It is now the norm for business professionals to use technology to produce every memo, envelope, label and document using a word processes.

Effective marketing materials require the use of graphic software and more to create and produce the layouts. Business presentations are created using computer software and delivered via laptop computers and projectors. Electronic payments and business banking accounts require the use of e–commerce software and secure Internet connections.

The computer revolution has allowed traditional businesses to reduce infrastructure costs by allowing their employees to work from home. In North America over 40 million employees work from home using different types of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

As traditional business practices become automated business leaders and HR personnel now demand that their current and future employees be computer literate. In the many parts of the developing world, it is proving to be a challenge for those who are unable to reach the required standard thus impacting their employ ability.

Social Interactions and Relationships

The ability to text chat in a real time environment with your peers is known as Internet Relay Chat (IRC). IRC tools to support chat are available through your cell phone provider or on the Internet. Some of the more popular real time chat tools include Microsoft Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and others.

These tools are becoming the norm for social interaction (especially among younger computer users) and it challenges in how people have traditionally interacted with each other – face to face discussions vice text chats with its own sub–culture language.

Man–Machine Connection

I would hope by now that you would agree much of the world cannot live without having some form of computer technology in their lives. Does this mean that we are controlling computer technology or is the technology controlling us–During the late 1980s and 1990s, the Internet invaded our lives.

Movies and TV shows included the Internet and sophisticated computers to entertain us. Some interesting ones were the 1982–1986 weekly television crime fighter series ‘Knight Rider’ which portrayed a modern–day hero who drove a high–tech smart car equipped with artificial intelligence.

Sandra Bullock’s 1995 movie ‘The Net’, involved an Alfred Hitchcock style drama about having her identity electronically erased and replaced with a stranger’s information. Then in 1998, there is Will Smith starring in ‘Enemy of the State’ which speaks about the use of satellites to track people, as well as in ‘I Robot’ in 2004 about a ‘humanoid’ robot that is suspected to have murdered its creator.

Whether you have seen these movies or not, the implicit use of computer technology in each of them sends the message that whether to help or hinder, that technology is everywhere. Today it is digitally generated 3D movies and animations like Avatar have caught our attention.

These movies would not be possible without computer generated images and human machine interactions to capture life like character movement. Technology has advanced so fast that more and more computers have an incredibly high fault tolerance, with robots automating the repair process, without any human intervention.

One example are the robots that are used by NASA to repair the International Space Station. Seriously, we are not that far away from computers repairing themselves. Let us now consider computer logics. Do “they” have the capability of handling complex thought processes like human ones ? Almost!

An Example – Man Machine Practical Application

In 1998, a technology entrepreneur in northeastern Washington was implanted with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip into his hand in order to experiment with the technology. The chip and supporting computer technology were used to gain key less entry to his car and home, turn on lights, logon to his and other remote and repetitive applications.

The experiment was successful and led to other applications for RFID technology. An implantable RFID chip is a minuscule capsule containing a microchip and an antenna, all enclosed in glass. The chip is about the size of a grain of rice. RFID chips work by storing a unique identification number in the microchip. This number can be retrieved by a special RFID reader that is held within close proximity.

Today there are most often implemented in animals to track their whereabouts and to include owner information that can be retrieved by a scanner used by a vet or other animal agency Although RFID technology is relatively old, it is still considered a controversial technology.

Privacy advocates fear that the technology might be abused by governments and used to track people. Microchip implants have been used for years for tracking lost pets.

Further European research in the area was recently dealt a blow when the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies made a presentation to the European Union raising privacy concerns over the potential for such chips to be used to track members of the public.

When employing different technologies, we must be aware of not only the technical issues, but issues of privacy, morality, society norms and ethical practices.

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