Knowing the future

I’ve been watching James Burke’s 1978 BBC series Connections, which is amazingly well-written and holds up extremely well even after 35 years (fashions notwithstanding).

Particularly insightful — not to mention timely — was a brief segment on computers which, in true James Burke style, was the natural follow-up to a discussion of looms and weaving.

While the punch cards Burke references seem as quaint today as his polyester suit, this stood out:

But the main reason why computers matter to you and me and our future is because they have perfect memories. They never forget anything they’re told about you and me. The kind of data, say, you have to give somebody if you want a bank account or credit or to be able to vote or buy a house or if you’ve been accused of a crime.

And that’s why computers contain the future within them. If you tell a computer everything about a group of people it will juggle the mix and come up with the one factor that is most likely to affect the decision that group will make about something, one way or the other.

Knowing that is knowing the future, and that is power. But in whose hands?

All 36 episodes (from 1978, 1994, & 1997) can be viewed on YouTube, via Top Documentary Films’ — James Burke: Connections