Information technology changing traditions
- McAllister tells symposium

Stabroek News
August 26, 1999

Information Technology is changing traditional relationships between the developing and developed countries, between citizens and their governments, and the young and old.

This observation was made by technology consultant Horace McAllister in a speech he gave as part of a symposium held by the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers (GAPE) at the University of Guyana (UG) on Tuesday. Prime Minister Sam Hinds declared the symposium open.

Because of equal access to the internet and its information, engineers can now take advantage of opportunities to not only access the latest ideas but also to publish their own findings. Governments are no longer able to control the information their citizens receive or to censor any internet speech and this might lead to greater government accountability. And those at the cutting edge of these technologies are young people, leaving in their wake their bemused professors.

The astounding growth of information technology raises many moral issues, McAllister noted. As with the advent of television, the internet has been touted as a source for education and enlightenment, but in reality only reflects the morals of its users.

In America last year the business in adult entertainment on the web totalled $1.5 billion; a third of all transactions. McAllister stressed the importance of using technology for more worthy causes and cited the Rupununi Weavers Society which sells its hammocks directly to consumers over the internet.

There are also security fears with the constant dialogue between computers. The sabotage of computer systems is for some an inexpensive but thrilling diversion. Computer viruses are designed to interject themselves between different command centres in the computer creating havoc. It will soon be possible to switch on even household appliances or industrial hardware from remote locations. The possibilities for chaos are becoming endless.

Economically, the advances in information technology could be a boon to both companies looking for a low paid but skilled workforce and for developing countries. Operations such as offshore database entry can function anywhere once there are stable communication systems and reliable electricity, he said. For countries such as Guyana, the challenge is to create a computer literate work force.

Traditionally, it was considered that those who generated information held the reins of power. With the advent of the internet any person can either acquire information or generate his own viewpoints. The effect of this should be a more democratic, egalitarian society and a move away from state control of ideas. McAllister noted that it is the young who grasp this concept so easily, devoid as they are of old concepts of power.

The current move in information technology is towards software that is "platform independent" such as JAVA, he said. In other words, software downloaded from the web which does not require the latest computers for its operation, thus eliminating the need for the constant replacement of costly hardware.

Concerning Guyana, the consultant also called for the formation of a technology lobby which would urge the government to recognise the benefits of using local engineers on projects with comparable wages and benefits.

The key to Guyana grasping the opportunities out there, McAllister said, is education. He promoted the idea of non profit computer clubs and use of tele-visual facilities to deliver distance learning in regions far from the university. He stressed that UG alone could not bring Guyana up to speed in information technology and that there was an urgent need to install new education programmes that reflect society's changing face.


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