The preceding sections of this article give some idea of the pervasiveness of computer technology in society. Many products used in everyday life now incorporate computer systems: programmable, computer-controlled VCRs in the living room, programmable microwave ovens in the kitchen, programmable thermostats to control heating and cooling systems the list seems endless. This section will survey a few of the major areas where computers currently have or will likely soon havea major impact on society. As noted below,
computer technology not only has solved problems but also has created some, including a certain amount of culture shock as individuals attempt to deal with the new technology. A major role of computer science has been to alleviate such problems, mainly by making computer systems cheaper, faster, more reliable, and easier to use.Computers are omnipresent in the workplace. Word processors computer software packages that simplify the creation and modification of textual documents have largely replaced the typewriter. ELECTRONIC MAIL has made it easy to transmit textual messages (possibly containing embedded picture and sound files) worldwide, using computers, cellular telephones, and specially equipped televisions via telephone, satellite, and cable television networks.
Office Automation has become the term for linking workstations, printers, database systems, and other tools by means of a local area network (LAN). An eventual goal of office automation has been termed the “paperless office.” Although such changes ultimately make office work much more efficient, they have not been without cost in purchasing and frequently upgrading the necessary hardware and software and in training workers to use the new technology.Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) is a relatively new technology arising from the application of many computer sciences sub disciplines to support the manufacturing enterprise. The technology of CIM emphasizes that all aspects of manufacturing should be not only computerized as much as possible but also linked into an integrated whole via a computer communication network. For example, the design engineer’s workstation should be linked into the overall system so that design specifications and manufacturing instructions may be sent automatically to the shop floor. The inventory databases should be linked in as well, so product inventories may be incremented automatically and supply inventories decremented as manufacturing proceeds
. An automated inspectionsystem (or a manual inspection station supplied with online terminal entry) should be linked to a quality controlsystem that maintains a database of quality information and alerts the manager if quality is deteriorating and possibly even provides a diagnosisas to the source of any problems that arise. Automatically tracking the flow of products from station to station on the factory floor allows an analysis program to identify bottlenecks and recommend replacement of faulty equipment. In short, CIM has the potential to enable manufacturers to build cheaper, higher quality products and thus improve their competitiveness. Implementing CIM is initially costly, of course, and progress in carrying out this technology has been slowed not only by its cost but also by the lack of standardized interfaces between the various CIM components and by the slow acceptance of standardized communication protocols to support integration. Although the ideal of CIM is perhaps just beyond reach at the present time, manufacturers are now able to improve their operations by, for example, linking robot controllers to mainframes for easy and correct downloading of revised robot instructions. Also available are elaborate software packages that simplify the building of databases for such applications as inventories, personnel statistics, and quality control and that incorporate tools for data analysis and decision support.