Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 10/87 item 01 - scanned

Getting to the future before it gets to us.

By David Tebbutt

Here. Listen to this: 'ITV chiefs are to enlist the help of a computer in censoring controversial programmes...' Thus reported the Daily Mail a couple of weeks ago. It goes on: 'As a programme is broadcast, the computer will continually check it and automatically stop transmission of any unsuitable scenes.' And then: Paul Bonner, head of planning for the Independent Television Companies, said: 'it's fool-proof.'

Who's he trying to kid'?

The same issue tells of a thief who has committed a theoretically impossible crime. He's defrauded one bank of half a million quid by using cloned hole-in-the-wall cash cards.

Coincidentally, with these stories I received a call from one Paul Kriwaczek, a television producer inviting me to see the tapes of his next series.

I tell you, you have to watch this series. It's a documentary set in the future. Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, so Paul figured a look at 2020 would be about right. Robert Powell plays the part of the narrator who describes his world to us, the listeners of today.

The world that Powell lives in is the one we might end up with if the implementation of technology is left to evolve without external guidance. In Powell's world, the financial interest of the shareholders seems to be the major justification for any decision. Thus, we find the equivalent of British Leyland using its computer power, not for making motor cars, but for playing the money and stock markets.

When the government has to increase taxes to pay the unemployed, companies decide to shift their operations to the Bahamas where the tax climate is more favourable. A $5 million saving on the tax bill is seen as a valid justification. You see, hardly any staff are needed in this future, and those that are can be spread around the globe according to their cost and docility.

Constantly, the programme cautions that this is only one of an infinite number of possible futures. But which one we end up with depends on the decisions we make now.

The series, Welcome to my World starts on 11 October (11pm, BBC1) and is designed to stimulate this decision making process and to contribute something to it.

Our problem - yours and mine - is that we're helping put these sophisticated systems in place and we often only look at them from a technological 'can it be done?' point of view. Few of us ask 'should it be done'.

Okay, so lots of companies will protest that THEY don't operate that way but, faced with stiff competition from companies that do, what's their answer? There's no denying that we are creating potentially huge problems without even thinking about possible solutions. It's no good waiting for the future to arrive on the grounds that we don't know the problems until they're here. That will be too late. It's no good keeping quiet in case we make mistakes. Look at New York: The motor vehicle solved one of its most severe environmental problems - huge piles of horse droppings. Few could have anticipated either the benefits of motorised vehicles or their disadvantages.

Today, we have the prospect of computerised vetting of television broadcasts. We replace session musicians with computer-generated music. We have so much data coming in from 'spy in the sky' satellites and other military hardware that only machines can extract the information quickly enough to analyse it and make decisions.

Never mind managers, directors, presidents, kings and queens - important decision-making is being increasingly handed over to machines.

Please watch the series. Think about it and then why not write to us. You're well qualified to comment. It doesn't matter whether you're for or against, the important thing is to get the debate going.