Department of Control,
Robotics and Computer Science
Poznan University of Technology
Pl. Sklodowskiej-Curie 5,
Instead of an introduction
A statement, that the computing technology changes more and more forms of work, teaching, and every-day-life, has become the truism. But computers may share ups and downs of previous technical inventions, which are to be just useful tools, like vehicles, vacuum cleaners or even factory robots.
The exhibition entitled “Planet of vision” on the EXPO 2000, Hanover pointed out some social utopias in 20th century (a large city as a promised land, jobs for everybody, a hope that a technical progress would result in a decrease of work). Following this idea, from my personal point of view, a new utopia was born at the beginning of the computing era. The essentials of it are as following: information technology should satisfy everybody, IT products may improve everything, multiculturalism is within one’s grasp, face-to-face relations may be replaced by electronic media, sitting in front of a computer screen all day long causes no health problems, etc.
Strong points of IT solutions are well known. A progress in the computing technology continues to accelerate but at the same time people realize social threats of it. So it is time to start talking about the post-computer era like we often say about the post-industrial era although the industry does not disappear, of course.
Negative social and ethical impact of IT products
The growing dependency on the computing technology may even cause a disaster in a technical sense, the same as an electrical power blackout, for example. Taking into considerations only social impacts one may form a long list of possible wrong effects:
- Next great step of society towards so called McDonaldization  caused by a constant focus on effectiveness, standardization, repeatability, and fastness – all of them refer to any sort of activity
- Progressive loneliness of society members, each of them well-equipped with a computer
- Lowering creativity of passive screen-watchers; a reproductive type of work does not result in producing public intellectuals
- Incompetence and thoughtlessness in an informational supermarket
- Replacing the face-to-face relations, including teaching, by the e-commerce and e-learning , and losing a chance to follow good personal patterns
- Farther development of bureaucracy supported by IT generating a lot of documents
- Replacing a joy of being a citizen of a global village by a fear that each step in the Internet is possibly monitored and tracked
- Deepening gap between the rich and the poor part of society (the same in a scale of the world, in general) because of a high cost of IT products<\li>
- Ignoring ethical principle  in a context of growing competitiveness.
To recapitulate, the professional and ethical responsibility has to be strengthened .
Human aspects in an international context
All the history shows that the mankind changes its surrounding, including infrastructure and environment, but people do not change themselves in the same degree.
Societies are constantly under the pressure of mass media, which strongly depend on the number of commercials. Also conferences are supported by companies of the IT profile. So everything concerning computers must be OK and the reliable critics has rather small chance to appear.
Computer applications exceed a barrier, below which a person uses a computer system to do something. Instead of it citizens are forced to behave in a way, which the authors of computer applications have designed often ignoring human predisposition and habits, their likes and dislikes, and so on. According to the computer-centered approach a person is supposed not only to learn how to use computer systems but she/he should adapt himself to the mode provided by the new technology.
Software designers verbally declare their efforts to protect multiculturalism against the domination of the western culture. But this care is usually reduced to the language translation only .
The basic and general question is – should we expect that people have to adapt to IT products or to adjust products to human beings.
Concern for quality as a way to respect an individualization of needs and taste
Software engineering adapts many techniques and procedures applied in other technical disciplines. Nowadays a concern for quality has become a standard approach useful for software developers [1, 4, 6]. The process is still far from satisfactory.
The new proposal is not to limit quality features to those basic six goals, specified in the standard ISO 9126, which still mostly refer to technical aspects of a software product. We should specify quality criteria, including functionality, in much wider meaning than it’s been practiced so far.
To secure human objectives – a challenge for software engineering
When Henry Ford invented the assembly line and applied it in his motorcar factories it was found as a great achievement and worldwide progress in technology. But later people stop marveling at it and didn’t want to perform the same activities at their work, year by year.
Using bombastic words, it is necessary to define and to respect human goals and objectives in a general sense. It is far not enough to specify only requirements for a given software product. Maybe it would be better not to build this product and use it at all. The words ‘effective’ and ‘fast’ cannot always be synonyms of the good and valuable. It’s time to formulate human objectives in general. Quality criteria should refer to goals not just results.
An interdisciplinary research is needed to solve some social noticed problems, like poor ability to communicate and cooperate with other people, superficial interests, a lack of responsibility, weak personality, tendency to imitate someone else’s idea rather than to show own creativity, etc.
Some conclusions and critical remarks have born in my mind after due consideration of software process and results of several students’ team projects. I would like to share these experiences with people, who are able to look at things from outside, remembering the well-known Pavlov’s effect. Maybe cooperation of software designers with sociologists, psychologists and even philosophers, should become an every day practice in the future.
- Begier B., Software engineering – quality issues (in Polish), Wydawnictwo Politechniki Poznanskiej, Poznan 1999.
- Begier B., Quality of Web-Based Applications for Educational Purposes, EDICT 2000, Proceedings of the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies in Education (E. Riedling, G. Davis, eds.), Vienna, 6-9th December 2000, pp. 201-208.
- Chroust Gerhard, Internationalization is more than language translation, in: IDIMT-2000 proceedings, 8th Interdisciplinary Information management Talks, September 20-22, 2000 Zadov, pp. 431-440.
- Krawczyk H., Sikorski M., Szejko S., Wiszniewski B., An assessment of the essentials of software quality characteristics (in Polish), in the proceedings of the 2nd National Conference on Software Engineering, Zakopane, Poland, 18-20 October 2000.
- MacIntyre A., A Short History of Ethics, 2nd edition of Polish translation: PWN Warszawa 2000, (originally: The Macmillan Publishing Company 1966).
- Pressman R. S., Software engineering. A practitioner’s approach (4th edition), McGraw-Hill, New York 1997.
- Ritzer G., The McDonaldization of Society, Pine Forge Press, A Sage Publications Company, 1996.