The impact of ICT on society.

Essay by jamesbecon April 2003

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Introduction

Before the coming of the industrial revolution, the majority of jobs were in some way linked with agriculture. At this time, communication was solely by word of mouth or written text. The industrial age bought with it, demands for administration and paper work. As time went on, technology was used to develop machines such as the typewriter, telephone and most importantly, the computer. We now live in an 'information age', a society that is heavily dependant upon the storage and communication of information.

Employment Patterns

With the introduction of computer controlled technology, employment patterns have changed considerably. The use of robots allows industrial processes to operate 24 hours a day, whilst saving companies money by cutting down on the human workforce. Some workers experience greater freedom by being able to take their work home, digitally. The ability to work from home saves on travel costs, in some cases giving the freedom to live almost anywhere in the country.

Within the office, the number of paper based jobs such as filing, has decreased with the implementation of computer systems. This allows companies to finely focus their workforce to increase productivity.

These changing employments may not always be welcomed by the human workforce, the disadvantages of job losses, and the ability to monitor the worker are examples of this. For example, some supermarkets can monitor the performance of their staff by monitoring the number of customers dealt with per hour. Workers in call centers are often monitored in a similar way.

Finance

I shall now address the advantages and disadvantages of information technology on a selection of areas. The finance sector has been changed considerably by the use of information systems. The use of cash for making transactions has reduced considerably. Instead, plastic cards, internet and telephone banking have taken over, what are the benefits of a cashless society?

The benefits predominantly fall into the security category. The use of debit cards in conjunction with fraud prevention schemes significantly reduces the chances of theft. There is little need to carry large amounts of cash on ones' person. There is less of a need to queue at a bank or building society when one can manage their financial situation online, or over the telephone. Credit cards have increased the publics spending power, and so must have increased sales across many markets considerably also. One can now buy goods by paying in monthly installments, for example.

Coincidentally, the disadvantages of these financial advances also predominantly fall into the security category. Information systems are a target for hackers, who may have the ability to exploit internet banking setups. Computer systems are able to store large amounts of personal information, which could also be jeopardized by a hacker. Although, as previously discussed, it could be thought as more secure to carry plastic money, than cash, there is still the possibility of credit/debit card theft and subsequent fraud. On a personal note, it could be harder for individuals to keep track of how much they have spent, especially as buying items with plastic cards is a very quick and simple process that requires little thought. Those who may not pay close attention to their financial situation, may overspend with cards, and easily get into debt. In cases, people may be denied credit for a number of reasons, including the lack of a steady income, causing some a great disadvantage.

Crime Prevention

Information technology has impacted on crime prevention in many beneficial ways. For example, camera systems which have the ability to detect speeding and the jumping of red lights have been successful in deterring drivers from offending. Computer controlled camera systems in city centers have helped to cut down violent crimes. In the last year, camera systems set-up in London have aided in cutting such crimes by over 35% [1].

Other areas of crime prevention benefited include:

*Burglary - Tagging systems used within the home have helped to recover stolen property quickly and efficiently. Computerized house security systems work to deter burglars even before entering the house, by means of a visible siren.

*Crime Detection - The Police National Computer (known as the PNC) is used to hold the details of all crimes committed and by whom. It also stores the records of all criminals. These details are also used within the National Criminal Intelligence System, which is used to piece together and analyze information about individual criminals and their criminal behavior. This computer system interacts with Interpol, the PNC, Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue as well as Bank and Building Society computers. In this respect, the police computer system can help prevent many public sectors from being attacked by crime.

Disadvantages of these systems to prevent crime include worries that the running of the PNC will be passed over to a private company. The PNC contains criminal records, details of wanted or dangerous people, disqualified drivers, stolen cars and guns and also the records of 30 million motorists. Some files indicate that a person is HIV positive. In addition to all this there are details of 70,000 people of 'long-term interest' held [2]. The concern is that a private company running the PNC would not be trusted as much as the police and people could be reluctant to pass information to the PNC. Inaccurate information held by the PNC could cause someone to be denied a job, or be wrongly arrested for a crime they may not have committed.

Identity

Driving licenses are now to be in credit card format and have a photograph of the driver on them. Eventually the government would like to add a microchip to these cards, thus making the card into a 'smart card'. Stored on the chip will be details of any endorsements for motoring offences, whether the driver was willing to donate organs and health details such as allergies. The card might also store National Insurance details, which would enable health details to be located. Many people are worried about this card, since they see it as an identity card under the disguise of a driving license. Some people argue that an identity card would help fight crime and Britain is the only European country not to have one.

In Conclusion

The linking of the silicon chip, the newly emerging technologies regarding fiber optics and satellite communications has led to the concept of the information superhighway. 'This is a global network of computers capable of moving huge amounts of information via satellite and cable.' [3] The digital revolution is likely to change all our lives considerably. By pressing a key at any time of the day you will be able to get information in a suitable form on demand anywhere in the world.

The information is not restricted to business: community information and learning data will be provided. At the moment your television set is restricted to a few channels. In the near future your television will be the gateway to fiber optic network. This will bring hundreds of channels, video on demand, home shopping, home banking and access to millions of data banks. In conclusion, I believe that the impact of ICT on society has been predominantly advantageous, the introduction of many new technologies has aided in making our lives easier to live. Services such as internet banking, and credit cards have saved us time, secured ourselves against theft, and allowed us to live more comfortable lives with the products we need available when we need them. Advances in crime prevention have allowed us to live our lives with much more reassurance of our own personal safety. We can leave our houses with the reassurance of the burglar alarm, walk home at night with the comfort of lowered crime rates.

Although, some will always disagree, there will always be some form of disadvantage to a minority, for example, those who get caught speeding on the roads, or perhaps to a majority, examples include the exploit of our personal details by hackers and the internet. Perhaps, even the fear of an emerging big-brother figure, bought about by the implementation of public surveillance. Will the information superhighway turn upon us?

Bibliography

[1] Metropolitan Police - London District - Website Source

[2] Information Systems and Us - Written Source

[3] The Coming of the Information Superhighway - Website Source