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  •                                 NETFUTURE
    
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    
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    Issue #41      Copyright 1997 O'Reilly & Associates      February 20, 1997
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                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
    
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    
    CONTENTS:
    *** Editor's Note
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          The End of Civilization?
          The End of Programming?
          Privatizing Censorship
    *** Paul Edwards on the Meaning of the Computer (Stephen L. Talbott)
          Is the human skull the ultimate closed world?
    *** About this newsletter
    

    *** Editor's Note

    The mail server through which I receive mail dropped everything on the floor this past weekend. If you sent me mail between Friday and Monday, I never saw it.

    Also the web server hosting NETFUTURE is periodically (every couple of weeks or so) producing "access denied" messages for unknown reasons. The server folks are working on it.

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    *** Quotes and Provocations

    The End of Civilization?

    An Iraqi government newspaper says the Internet is "the end of civilizations, cultures, interests, and ethics."

    You've gotta hand it to Saddam. That just may prove to be the mother of all news scoops.

    The End of Programming?

    Paul Edwards in The Closed World (see the notes on his book below) mentions symposia on "automatic programming" sponsored by the Office of Naval Research in 1954 and 1956. Interestingly, the phrase then referred to the nascent development of compilers for high-level languages. At that time "programming" proper included only what we would call "machine-language programming."

    Programmers today, of course, will be amused to hear that they are not doing real programming but are only users of automatic program generators (compilers). This historical oddity, however, reminds one of the long series of leaps to higher programming levels, culminating more recently in graphical user interface generators and the various programmatic supports for Web presentation. At each stage we have suffered the illusion that we were leaving "real" programming behind--or the main bulk of it, anyway--thereby gaining freedom to concentrate more on content. Yet the year-by-year rise in the population of programmers continues.

    True, the work has changed in some ways--the symbols programmers manipulate have changed--but few would argue that the advertised deliverance has come. The hopes held by Web enthusiasts on behalf of content-without-programming will go--are already going--the way of those earlier hopes. Java is not particularly easier to wield than C, Perl or FORTRAN.

    What we have here, I think, is another instance of that "great technological deceit" I referred to in NF #38 and NF #40. (Perhaps it would have been better named the "great confusion between technical progress and human ends.") Technical pr