ABSTRACT OF AN ADDRESS TO THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE CANADIAN INFORMATION PROCESSING SOCIETY BY GEORGE FIERHELLER, PRESIDENT OF CIPS FOR 1970-71
HOTEL VANCOUVER – JUNE 2, 1970
The computer industry is in the middle of its third decade. As any person or organization over thirty is now considered part of the Establishment, our industry has little time left in which to impress the coming generations that we have a significant role to play in the latter part of the Twentieth Century.
No one doubts that computer-related activities will form the world’s largest industry within the next 10 to 15 years. However, success in the next decades will not be judged on the basis of size or financial achievement alone, but rather, on the responsiveness of the industry to the problems facing mankind.
Youth is unimpressed by the spectacular technological achievements such as those in space. Youth believes that people come first. Our organization represents the people in the Canadian computer industry. As such, we must be particularly aware of the long-range responsibilities of our industry.
Computers have their place in relieving the drudgery of repetitive and uninspiring work. It is in this area where computers have, to date, performed most of their work. For the decades to come, much of our activity will continue to be in helping business and industry solve the many problems in the commercial and scientific data processing world.
However, the real challenge in the coming decades will be to solve the ‘people’ problems.
We have often said that a computer is properly considered an extension of man’s mind. If this is so, the computer must be considered as an extension of all aspects of man’s mental capabilities, and this, in turn, implies that if man’s major efforts are to be directed toward improving the conditions of human life, the computer will find its major applications in these areas in the coming decades.
The real challenge is to apply the computer to broad social problems such as:
The computer can now provide access to the quantity of information necessary to make rational decisions in a complex society. Education will move away from the provision of facts and move toward a study of the means of retrieving the facts necessary to make decisions. This will involve an increasing interplay between the student and the computer.
This educational process will continue throughout an individual’s life as our changing society will require that a man be prepared to change or modify his vocation two or three times within one life span
In addition to the basic research being done in medicine, new opportunities will be opened through the ability of medical researchers to look for trends by extensive examination of medical records held on a computer.
The search for new sources of food supply must become one of the major preoccupations of the 70’s and 80’s. The application of computers to develop the oceans as sources of food, to create new sources of protein and develop new forms of crops, will be a significant challenge.
The use of the computer to help us save our environment by monitoring pollution is already becoming a major application.
The combination of computers with satellite technology will enable us to not only locate new resources, but to control our environment by such means as altering the flow of water through irrigation systems, anticipating weather changes, and will, in addition, assist in the development of new sources of low-pollution energy.
The population increase will shortly preclude our moving ourselves around merely to transport our minds where we would like them to be. The combination of visual communication systems with centralized databanks, accessible to parties in different cities, should allow us to work where we would like rather than being forced to come together physically in large urban areas.
These human problems provide more than enough challenge. How can the Canadian Information Processing Society meet this challenge?
THE PLACE OF THE SOCIETY
We are a young society in the world’s most exciting industry. Our biggest problem will be to retain the buoyant fresh approach as our field matures, that those in the field have demonstrated in the past. There is the danger that the very potential of this rapidly changing new field may in itself be a disadvantage if we allow ourselves to be mesmerized by the process of change. The field has shown some signs of lack of direction with everyone wanting to pursue his own course. This has led to a proliferation of approaches, education, and even companies.
A major aim of CIPS is to provide a measure of stability without rigidity.
We must aim at keeping a level of professionalism worthy of the field in which we have chosen to make our careers. The Society provides the only major Canadian vehicle for the continuing exchange of ideas between professionals while, at the same time, providing a means of continuing education to those in the field.
But in addition to our responsibility for self development, we must be aware of our responsibility to meet the challenges noted above.
We have a responsibility to create.
If we keep in mind that the major challenge of our industry will be to solve the human problems, then we, as a society, will promote the active participation with various levels of government to ensure that our field is being developed to meet the long-range needs of Canada. However, to avoid the rigidity that could stifle a young industry, the Society must not allow our involvement with government to emasculate our industry by submitting to creeping regulation that could substitute administration for innovation.
The problems facing Canada and the responses required by the computer industry are such that the Federal Government must be involved in the analysis of the needs, the provision of direction, and the financing of work in these fields. Our Society must ensure that we work with the government to accomplish these aims, but must also ensure that the government utilizes, not sterilizes, this young industry by imposing any form of early rigidity.
Our Society also has responsibilities as the Canadian representative to the international computing community. Satellite technology is already providing a worldwide network for voice and video communication and there is no doubt that this will be expanded to include international exchanges of digital information. CIPS is already heavily involved in this area and these activities will be expanded.
THE NEXT STEP
I am often asked where our field is going. The answer is it will go anywhere we want it to. This places a great responsibility in the hands of those in the computer field. We must keep our objectives clear and our standards high.