Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 
Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Do we rely too much on computers?

Computers may have revolutionised the way we live and work, but what would happen if they all suddenly crashed?

We may have escaped the millennium bug, but workers at London's stock exchange had a taster yesterday when their systems ground to a halt for eight agonising hours. Millions of pounds of business was lost on what was the last day of the financial year.

Back-up systems are being investigated, but do we have too much faith in computers?

Has technology become such a big part of your life, that existing without it now seems incomprehensible? Or maybe your PC has crashed one too many times and you don't trust it as far as you would like to throw it. Tell us what you think. HAVE YOUR SAY



Asking if we can live without it is as complex as asking if we could have lived without the industrial revolution.

Andrew McKillican, UK
Computer technology goes well beyond the humble PC. It saves lives in the medical arena, flies our planes and can even drive our cars. Television removed people from the book yet almost all communication between a user and a desktop PC is done via types words which are read. It's a communication tool, a news media tool, an advanced calculator and a games machine. Asking if we can live without it is as complex as asking if we could have lived without the industrial revolution.
Andrew McKillican, UK

Yes, we probably rely too much on computers. They are meant to facilitate the process. However for some scenario's which do not exist on the computer screen, the operator will tell you that they cannot do it because they do not have a check mark for it on their screens. Our sense of judgement has been superseded by the computer that can only do what has been programmed in. Almost no software can foresee all the various scenarios that it will face.
AK Modi, UK

In the famous ice storm of the winter of 1998 we all re-learnt how to live without ANYTHING electrical. For 2 weeks, we relied on community centres for hot food and showers - their power coming from generators. We read books by candlelight, talked and played family games! My only 'modern' device was my clockwork radio, thanks to that guy in London! Since then of course, we have all settled back into that crazy dependency - e-mails, faxes etc all - sterile communications.
Rosemary Costaguta, Canada



I think that we aren't relying on IT enough and that the technology that we have needs to be improved.

Brian D, Australia
I think that we aren't relying on IT enough and that the technology that we have needs to be improved. The IT industry bleats on about the advances of its output, but with more and more hackers bringing their "breakthroughs" to a pathetic, stuttering halt and their continuing inability to banish, for ever, the infamous "blue screen of death", I'd say that the overall picture is of a sorry industry that has not sorted all the bugs out, and sells many of its products full of flaws that your man in the street has to sort out himself or obtain the expensive, fee-heavy services of "those in the know". All in all, a shoddy state of affairs!
Brian D, Australia

I fear that people and society in general do not realise the dramatic effect that the rapid advances in technology are having on humanity. The speed of human development has become far slower than that of technology and particularly communications technology such as the internet.
Benj'min Mossop, Britain

I concede that I am a tech "junkie" like many people these days. Just put "digital" or "improved processor" on the box and I will want to buy it but would my world end if all the computers in the world crashed? I think not. But a lot of people would be in deep trouble! Is it going to happen? Not very likely though.
Mike, UK

What would happen if all the computers suddenly crashed - is about as likely as "What would happen if all the oxygen in the air suddenly moved to Antarctica. It's not gonna happen, period.
Reaan Botha, South Africa



Computers have, without a doubt, had a vast positive impact on all aspects of modern society

Mike Taylor, South Africa
Computers have, without a doubt, had a vast positive impact on all aspects of modern society. But it worries me that so few people seem aware of the implications should important and necessary systems stop working for even a short while. Reliance on computers is almost total, and many companies would not be able to operate at all! Another problem I notice is an increasing reliance of kids on the computer for entertainment. It no longer requires creativity or initiative from kids to amuse themselves when all they have to do is push buttons for whatever they want. I believe that this is going to start showing in a few years time.
Mike Taylor, South Africa

Without computers we would not be discussing any of the BBC online Talking Points with people from all over the world.
N Dixon, USA

We rely on computer technology just as we rely on many other technologies. There is nothing new in that! There are many ways that modern society is vulnerable. Just consider the consequences of power cuts.
Phil Hall, UK

Computers have made people capable of doing everything in a more speedy and effective way than ever before. All kind of sectors and professions are getting benefit from it. In fact, this is another revolution through which we are passing for the time being. I believe widely use of computers will help develop the future of mankind not demolish it.
Yagci, Turkey

Some people are too dependant on computers because their lives revolve around them (eg Neil, UK). We still have the pen and paper. And stop making these naff predictions for a future when computers rule our lives. I seem to remember confident predictions that by the year 2000 cars will float like bubbles, women will rule over men and food will be replaced by pills - yeah right!
Zaki, SA

Myself and my girlfriend went into a pub the other day, 'Pint of bitter and half a pint of coke please' I asked. 'Sorry' replied the bar tender, 'you can't have the coke, pints and half pints of soft drinks are not on the computer!'
Mike,

Obviously the world would not end without computers - it would just make things a hell of a lot harder and less efficient and would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland



Imagine in 5000BC someone complaining that everyone's got terribly reliant on this "wheel" thing.

Benjamin, UK
If a tool is useful, people will rely on it. As humans, we make tools and use them to do stuff we would find difficult or impossible unaided. The computer is only one of the latest tools we've invented. Imagine in 5000BC someone complaining that everyone's got terribly reliant on this "wheel" thing, and what happens if it breaks, eh? You'll be stuck!
I don't worry about it particularly. Computers go wrong all the time, and the world hasn't ended yet for us poor, soft pampered souls in the decadent west.
Benjamin, UK

Computers are the pen and quill of modern society, and they are as essential as electrical power and the telephone. Critical systems must have non-stop resilience built in.
Albert Scott, UK

Of course we're dependent on computers - they bring great benefits in one's work and personal lives.
That said, there are groups in society who don't have access to computers (e.g. underprivileged, living in a remote area). They won't be able to pick up the skills necessary for the information age and will consequently be disadvantaged over the rest.
IC, UK



People are forgetting the sort of skills that are necessary to survive in the real world.

John G, UK
I don't like the look of the future: it seems to be neon bright and as sterile as a computer display. As a society we have become overwhelmingly reliant on all forms of technology. People are forgetting the sort of skills that are necessary to survive in the real world, or are not now being taught them in the first place.
One of these days something rather catastrophic is bound to happen. I don't know what this will be, but I do know we won't be ready for it, because we'll be too busy pressing buttons and waiting for our beloved computers to save us. In short, we are forgetting how to live for ourselves.
John G, UK

Computers have brought information to our fingertips. The best decisions are made by having the right information! How can we ever go back?
John Hanson, UK



Employees don't know what goes on behind the screen and consequently without the computer they are lost.

Dave S, UK
I think the main problem is the "dumbing down" of skilled jobs. Originally these systems were designed and built to help someone with their job, but, over time it has meant that certain jobs become simpler. New employees don't know what goes on behind the screen and consequently without the computer they are lost.
Perhaps if Industry invested more in training employees on how to a job, rather than how to use the computer to do the job, the situation we saw earlier this week may not have been so bad.
Dave S, UK

My world would only fall apart if business, utilities, and government were not able to function without computers, and what are the chances of that? Exactly.
Yes my world would fall apart, no power, no water, no communications, no money, no waiting for 10 minutes to buy a pint of milk because even though you have the right change and you know the price, you can't buy it because the laser scanner can't read the bar-code and electronically update the shop inventory and produce a uniquely coded receipt.
Graeme, England

The prophecies of the 'technological prophets of doom' are about as valid as those of the "religious nutter" persuasion (i.e. they both tend not to come true).
Dave, UK

Internet, computers, technology, are all products of human's constant search for knowledge, which is one of the basic parts of human nature. Primarily mankind acts with good intentions and there are always individuals who can put a negative "contribution" on these acts. Man can not get out of technology. It is a part of the human search.
Toma Kukoc, Croatia



You cannot easily backup every piece of paper you own and carry it around with you, but you can if it is on computer.

R Knott, UK
The one massive improvement that computes have over paper is backups. You cannot easily backup every piece of paper you own and carry it around with you, but you can if it is on computer.
In my experience, people forget the value of their electronic data, don't protect it with the same respect as they would a piece of paper, when it is so easily backed up. Information is only lost by incompetence
R Knott, UK

Fortunately, computers were designed to simplify our lives! (All of us depend upon IT to correspond on this forum) Occasionally they do crash, and can cause some minor or even major inconveniences - but do we really want to go back to pen and paper?
Jose' Torres Jr, USA

As a 20 year old, I sincerely hope that I will be not be around by the time Mike Holme's vision ever comes to fruition.
Already we have people who would rather communicate in e-mail rather by word of mouth in the workplace. People who conduct their lives through the internet should really get "Offline" a bit more and enjoy the world around them instead of viewing life through a 17" screen!
Daniel Boys, UK

I work in IT and frequently get abuse if a computer system is not working properly. My thoughts often return to the fact that people once managed to work without such machines and only pen and paper. So why do professionals find that nowadays they are unable to continue without their computers? These machines should be used as a tool to aid work rather than the only tool used in the workplace.
Matt, UK

No civilisation wouldn't collapse without technology. Plenty of people in 3rd world countries live without it now. The West on the other hand, would crumble and die.
Paul, Wales



We don't lean on computers we abuse the potential they have.

Martin Bentley, UK
We don't lean on computers we abuse the potential they have by letting the average computer illiterate manager make decisions concerning IT. In Britain we make fast food slow and labour saving devices like computers more work intensive. No one should have a secretary. Everyone should be able to input into and use a PC, if they can't they shouldn't be management.
Martin Bentley, UK

Many industries, financial services are moving to a paper-less office for 'improved efficiency'. It alleviates the problem of years of accumulated files and papers which regulators insist are retained. Some companies I deal with receive post, scan it into their computer systems and then destroy the original paper. If computers were suddenly lost to our industry, there would be chaos and confusion. Is this reliance a good thing? Yes, whilst the systems work but we can't build in 'what if's' at this late stage.
Jenni, UK

When I was working in Russia, I managed to destroy my laptop and all the information on it by picking up the infamous Chernobyl virus. I lost a years work, and it was not a happy time. I have learned to update my virus software regularly and back up all my work to external drives. Personally I think technology is not just a tool, it has become a way of life. I could not live or work without my computers, mobile phone etc, buy my girlfriend uses a computer for work, but couldn't care less if she had to use a pencil and paper. Maybe it's just boys with toys...
Gavin, Finland



The recent Y2K problem illustrates that computer technology is not foolproof

L Stevens, Australia
At the present time we are not over-reliant on computers. Computers are useful tools. However, like any tool, they do present dangers - both now and for the future. Current dangers involve the misuse of technology - hackers, the spreading of misinformation. Future dangers do include over-reliance on computer technology that could lead to disaster due to system breakdown. The recent Y2K problem illustrates that computer technology is not foolproof. In the distant future the merging of nano technology, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence could lead to apocalyptic results. Nevertheless, there are solutions. Computer users should be aware of and implement security measures; and a watchdog organisation needs to be set up to police software development.
L Stevens, Australia

The march of "progress" by the human race is relentless, inexorable and virtually unstoppable. In the unlikely event that The Crash occurs, we will suffer a temporary setback and come back with a better machine. No one can stop this. It's as though the whole human race has been programmed to travel this path.
Y.T. Han, Malaysia

There was a comment here voicing the popular view that computers will eventually become 'self-aware'. It's a very appealing fantasy but I do not share the optimism. However advanced computers become, they will always only ever be human implements. The painting, for example, can never become the painter.
Simon Cameron, UK

I can't imagine life with out computers. The majority of time is spent either on computers or something directly related to them. I believe that computers will not crash, because they can not, and the companies that make them know this.
John, USA

When I first saw the question, I laughed and thought, 'Don't be so silly', but then I thought about it. I spend about 3-4 hours minimum on the internet every day. My only form of contact with family and friends is either my mobile or e-mail. I depend on radio, television or the computer for entertainment. Maybe technology has gone too far...
Caroline, UK

Of course civilisation would not fall apart if the computers vanished. Civilisation is not that thin.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA



Perhaps the day of reckoning isn't all that far off.

Nick, UK
During the 1970's, (in what could be termed the early days of the electronic information revolution), I seem to remember a spate of television dramas centred around what would happen to civilisation if "the machinery" all went wrong. Although they all painted a fairly bleak picture, I think that things can only have become worse in the intervening years.
Our reliance on technology has reached a point where many people (primarily in the "Western" world) would probably curl up and die if forced to live without the technological advances that make their modern life so comfortable. Who knows? All it may take is a serious solar flare to disrupt the Earth's electronic networks. Perhaps the day of reckoning isn't all that far off.
Nick, UK

I have a laptop, WAP-enabled phone, a Palm PDA, a Gameboy and a minidisc player with me right now. I can send and receive phonecalls, email, faxes and text messages from anywhere in the world. But where do I store me phone numbers and to do lists? In my head, it's much more reliable...
Dave, UK

Yes I rely on computers and would have difficulty if there were none. Imagine... I'd half to talk to my partner instead of emailing her.
Kenny Brunton, England



We do not hear people clamouring for the pen to be banned, or regulated, as they do with the internet.

Andrew, UK
Computers are tools, and as such are neither inherently good nor bad. The ball point pen is a useful tool, but it is always a good idea to keep another pen, or even a pencil, to hand as a backup in case it goes wrong. Similarly, many evil and obscene words have been written with the pen, but we do not hear people clamouring for the pen to be banned, or regulated, as they do with the internet.
Andrew, UK

I guess most of the people commenting here are likely to be pro-technology, simply by virtue of the media used to post the message. It is almost impossible these days to remove the technology element from everyday life, at business or at home. As technology improves and software becomes more stable and reliable, we in turn become more reliant on it. Whether you like it or not, we're stuck with computers!
James, UK

I am entirely dependant on my computer, without it I would be forced to watch that banal rubbish they call television. At least I get to look at new stuff on my computer.
Neil, UK



There must always be back up systems for when things go wrong.

JN, UK
Computers make our lives easier but we should never rely on them completely. There must always be back up systems for when things go wrong.
Surprisingly the London Stock Exchange came to a standstill yesterday. In the old days Stock Jobbers would trade on the floor of the exchange and "My Word is My Bond" was universally known.
I doubt if the bunch of youngsters who control the screens of today's exchange have even heard of a Stock Jobber. They spent several hours staring into space on Wednesday.
JN, UK

I think we should continue to improve Artificial Intelligence then, when computers get to the point where they
a) become self-aware, and
b) develop the ability to build more advanced, mobile versions of themselves, we should give them complete control over the country's defence systems. And then if there was a malfunction and we needed to pull the plug, we should discuss it first in a soundproofed pod in view of the defence computer's electronic "eye".
Pete R, England

For the most part, I'd rather have to rely on a computer than on a person. I'm not worried about being over-reliant on machines. They're the wave of the future, what humanity has evolved toward. By embracing technology and merging with it, we can become higher forms of life.
C M Sanyk, USA



Unless the major quality issues are tackled (especially in mission critical systems) we could find ourselves in a lot of trouble.

Phil, UK
I don't think it is our reliance on these machines that is the fundamental problem. Instead, I think the real issue is the reliability of the software and to a lesser extent, the hardware involved. The quality of most of the software in the public domain today is sinfully poor. This is because the most important factor in software marketing today is beating your competitor to get the latest, greatest feature into your product. I believe that we can afford to rely heavily on computers...indeed our future advancement depends on this. However, unless the major quality issues are tackled (especially in mission critical systems) we could find ourselves in a lot of trouble.
Phil, UK

I have been using the computers ever since I was doing my undergraduate student in 1974- 1977. Without the use of computers, I would not have got my Doctorate in Applied Statistics. I spenp at least 10 hours a day on computers even now. I feel that people who do not use the computers are missing a lot in their lives.
Dr Vnmurti Durvasula, Australia

As many companies have rushed into technology the demand for code quantity and ignorance of engineering principles has generated lots of bad code. Hence our reliance on computers is flawed. Would you live in a house built by flower arrangers? More high profile computer failures are imminent. What is very concerning though is the engineers and experts we require to look after these systems are being driven abroad by the governments policies of specifically penalising these engineers with IR35.
Mark Lisle, Germany



Computers are really good for us and the more people learn to use them the better.

Mikko Toivonen Finlan
Computers are really good for us and the more people learn to use them the better. They indeed make many things much easier and efficient. The unfortunate side effect is that along with the computers a whole new generation of people have been created who do nothing else than invent new useless forms to try to make things more difficult again. Also this famous ISO norm appeared first when computers were there because it requires a lot of people producing a lot of forms that others then use as toilet paper. But any development has its difficulties.
Mikko Toivonen Finland

If you expect 100% reliability then technology whether a computer, car or clock will always let you down. This is a factor of complexity and there is no solution other than to ensure your back-up systems and maintenance provision is adequate.
Andy Mayer, UK

It would appear that people are so dependant on electronics that they have lost the ability to think for themselves. If "the computer says XYZ", then XYZ must be true. If you want to make an idiot believe you, just tell him "that's what the computer said" I work with computers, but make a point to have a life outside of them!
John B., UK



I'd like to live to see us plugging the internet directly into our brains

Mike Holmes, Scotland
Rather than us becoming too dependent on computers, I wish the rate of change were faster. I'd like to live to see us plugging the internet directly into our brains; to artificial intelligence joining us in work and play; and hopefully to us dispensing with biology entirely and uploading our minds into new lives within computer hosted virtual environments.
If only the pace of change were faster...
Mike Holmes, Scotland

I have been a great advocate of computers until recently. Now as an associate teacher I see everyday, time being wasted by those who are interested not in the knowledge that initially motivated them to use the computer as a tool but instead by the power of the machine.
The constant evolution of technology is difficult to keep up with, because the majority are constantly on the backfoot, it becomes an obsession to keep up and the initial quest for subject-based knowledge fades in to the race for technical skill.
Lydia Arnold, England

I certainly feel that I rely on computers, especially with the Internet, for my working and personal life. It would be very very hard to live without that. Having said that, I do not have a car in my household, and many would say you could not live without that (no I do not live in London).
Andy Chisholm, UK



We are not over-dependent on IT because we still have alternatives that allow us to do the same thing, just a little slower.

Matthew Gaffney, UK
Let's face it we are very dependent on computer machinery, from ATMs and stock market machines to PC and personal organisers. Without them where would we be? Would we have the standard of living we have today? The answer is very probably not. IT allows us to work very efficiently, quickly and now wherever we want.
But we do have alternatives, we can still withdraw money over the counter, use filofaxs for our appointments and typewriters for letters. We are not over dependant on IT because we still have alternatives that allow us to do the same thing, just a little slower. I am very surprised the London Stock market did not have any failsafes. As a system developer I know that failsafes are a vital part of designing a system especially crucial ones such as the stock exchange.
Matthew Gaffney, UK

Computers are still in early development and are likely to have erroneous software. It's interesting to see reports from the media and politicians saying system crash or data problem. They appear to have no idea what computers are doing and to accept the stock exchange problem yesterday as trivial makes me sceptical. Are they trying to say that they forgot to test the software changes?!
Colin, Netherlands

It would appear that people are so dependent on electronics that they have lost the ability to think for themselves. If "the computer says XYZ" then XYZ must be true. If you want to make an idiot believe you, just tell him "that's what the computer said"
I work with computers, but make a point to have a life outside of them!
John B, UK

Send us your comments:
Name:

Your E-mail Address:


Country:

Comments:

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

05 Apr 00 | Business
London shares chaos
06 Apr 00 | Business
London market opens smoothly
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to other Talking Point stories