IEEE Computer Volume 15 Number 11 -- BOOK REVIEWS
Original Publication Date: 1982-Nov-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Nov-11
Software Patent Institute
True Seaborn: AUTHOR [+3]
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Computer Power and Human Reason -- Joseph Weizenbaum (W. H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco, 1982, 300 pp., $9.95)
This book, by a well-known computer scientist, is not merely another introduction to computers and their applications. Primarily, it is an expression of the author's misgivings over what he sees as abuses of the powers that computers have conferred upon their users. Recent publicity has linked computerized data banks to the invasion-of-privacy issue, but Weizenbaum's concerns are more comprehensive. His comments extend to technological developments that are not now directly related to computers, and he advises fellow scientists to renounce certain lines of research, namely those that "dehumanize" people. "An individual is dehumanized," he writes, "whenever he is treated as less than a whole person."
Slogans of this sort have a certain rhetorical appeal but are too vague to yield specific directives in concrete situations. To illustrate what I mean, I will use a specimen from the class of computer applications that Weizenbaum finds unacceptable as a test case and use it to examine his position.
Computers should not, he says, be programmed and employed to act as surrogates for human therapists in the treatment of psychiatric patients. One of his own programs, constructed only for experimental purposes, is designed to imitate the interaction between a patient and a nondirective psychotherapist. He is dismayed by the response of some psychiatrists, who hope or expect that from this beginning a comprehensive program of computerized therapy may eventually be developed. He thinks that an essential in gredient of psychotherapy is for the therapist to have an empathic understanding of a patient's problems, "an imaginative projection into the patient's inner life." Anything less is an immoral capitulation to the "mechanical conception of man," which allegedly dominates modern thinking and is a major cause of our current troubles and problems. Scientists, he advises, must learn to say "No! " to such projects and...