COMPUTER SCIENCE AND DEMOCRACY
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND DEMOCRACY
BY GIUSEPPE FORTUNATI
All rights resereved. All over the world no part of this book may be reprinted, reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, including photocopying and recording or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior permission in writing of the author, Giuseppe Fortunati. The book is registered according to the item number 105 of the law, dated April 22, 1941, number 633, by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
Printed in Italy, 1994.
Copyright 1994 by Giuseppe Fortunati.
Fortunati Giuseppe, doctor engineer
05035 Narni (TR)
Office Tel.Num. 039-744-726993.
Translated by Tessa Agostini,
doctor of foreign languages and English teacher.
Via Filangieri ,16
Tel. Num. 039-744-300468
- AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
- COMPUTER SCIENCE AND POWER
- APPLICATION AT A MUNICIPAL LEVEL
- NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS
- MODERN AND FUTURE TECHNOLOGY
- A TRAVEL INSIDE THE TWENTY HUNDRED YEAR POLICY
-THE PROBLEM OF THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CULTURE
I would like to dedicate this essay to Laura, my wife and to Mariangela, my daughter, thanking them both for their support and love.
Special thanks are extended to people who, at least once, have tried to use their intelligence to know how computers operate. It is then addressed to the wide underestimated and oppressed multitude of the computer scientists, who are selfmade without any outer help, counting only on their own sacrifice and devotion and more than once exploited by the sly, only interested in how to earn easily. We, authentic "computer scientists", have moulded ourselves spending hours and hours opposite a computer, and we have been rewarded only by our daily little conquests. We have learnt, day after day, what is right and what is wrong using the computer, whose laws, unlike the human ones, are rationally right and mark the ignorant, typing a pitiless "error message" on the video screeen.
I have written this book in order to give a new dignity to those individuals who are the real strength of our society and who, sooner or later, will realize that it is not right to leave the "power" in the incapable’s hands. Thus I exhort you to join us and fight, putting your own abilities on the society’s disposal in order to make it greater and righter.
Giuseppe Fortunati, an informer consultant, was born in 1950 in Narni (Umbria), where is living in 3 Aspromonte Primo alley. His home telephone number is 039-744-726290. In Florence he attended egineering faculty with the specialization in bioelectronics. In this town he refined his artistic sensitivity, attending painting and theatrical courses, the latter run by the famous Edoardo De Filippo. He dedicated himself to many different jobs : from the tourist guide to the physics teacher, from the extra at the Florentine Musical May to the unloader of the railway mail department. In this period he composed music and words of about 20 songs of various gender. In 1977 he was interested in solar energy, vistited the "Cern" in Geneve and was one of the memebers of the "VEL" project in the nuclear research centre, "La Casaccia" in Rome. In the same year he flew to England and there he visited the Autonomous House. In this town he has been living for some months. From 1979 he is a sales engineer in the cardiology sector for the M.E.D.I.C.O. firm in Italy and has met and worked with the main chief physicians of the national hospitals. In 1982 he became an area - manager in the centre - southern Italy for the C.B.M. firm and participated in the mondial cardiology congresses in Moscau and Paris. Moreover he was the holter-line responsible of the French "ELA MEDICAL " firm. In 1983 he was elected town councillor in the commune of Narni.
In 1984 he decided to follow his computer vocacy and organized the exhibition, "Computer science... that is", which registered a great public success. After that he started businesses of his own because he wanted more indipendence and job satisfaction and opened a small computer shop, he has still got . In 1985 he run a computer course organized by the commune of Terni for over a thousand of the "Scuola Media" children. At the end of this course, Piero Angela, a "RAI" TV journalist, intervened.
In 1986-87 he was present at a TV programme about the spreading of the information culture; it was particularly interested in the "Texas Instruments", the "Steel Factories" in Terni, and others like those. In this period he worked as a computer consultant and teacher for many firms and enterprises in Terni. For some years he has been inserted in the "CRUED" (Umbrian Regional Data Processing Centre) educator list and has been running computer courses for some communal employees and local public health service officers in Orvieto. He is cooperating in the national micro- and personal computer review and he is an A.I.C.A. (Italian Automatic Calculus Association) member. He is mentioned in the Alfa - Line national information year-book. In the same period as Orvieto he started in Terni an extracurriculum teaching relationship with a technical commercial high school, "F. Cesi", where he taught information theory basis and computer to about a hundred of future accountants.
In 1989 he introduced, at a sperimental level, the first data bank, "Umbria Net" , and then he specialized in telematics. After that he attended ESA IRS (a European space agency) and used the European data Bank, "ECHO". Thanks to his commercial activity he has experienced all the PC evolution. In the meantime he started thinking of a new form of democracy, which used telematics in order to inform, directly at home, citizens, using an automatic system. At the moment he is one of the authors interested in the first telematic project in Terni, consisting in the relevation of data regarding air-pollution. He is also cooperating with the "API" (a small association of enterprises operating in Terni) and is one of the members working on the computer technology in the Scientific Technologic Park. He actively partecipates in the biblomediateca promoted in Terni, a multimedial container of news and modern technologies. He is linked to Internet and has contacts with the main universities in the world.
In this short book it is proposed a more advanced form of Democracy, which makes use of the computer science to inform citizens better and to transform them into a more active strength operating in the democratic life of the country.
Starting from our traditional "Democracy" and applying what till here mentioned, it would be possible to arrive gradually at a new system to meddle in politics. All citizens could be informed in details about every choice of government, simply at home, sitting opposite a more complex TV set, and in perspective , they could obtain a selfgoverning policy. It could be utopian, unrealizable, but I think it will be the only really democratic route of our next future.
Difficulties, obstacles and conflicts of interests with "the leaders of the power" will be a lot, but we, men in the street, must fight hand in hand in order to let this "utopia" become reality.
The modern political situation, as it is said by the powerful men themselves, is an imperfect democracy.
In fact the term "democracy", translated from Greek, means "popular government", and nowadays everything could be said except that people are governing.
Despite the idealistic impulse of the partisan movement and the valour of the men who conquered the power after the fall of the fascists, we have been witnesses of a notable division between the citizens’ needs and the politicians’.
The main reason of such a break is to be ascribed to the lack of the information interchange between those who govern and those who are governed.
Utopistically we are likely to think well about our rulers’ good will, but, in any case, it would result too difficult for them to interpret people’s needs.
Infact the politician makes use of highly sophisticated statistic information based on well-defined investigations and models (usually 1000 interviews).
They result to be extrapolations and often rather subjective interpretations of tendency, managed by the same statistic organs mostly linked to the power currents.
On the other hand the citizen is practically in the impossibility of really knowing the choices made for him. The sources of information are insufficient in the national field (see television news and newspapers), and practically non-existent in the local ambit.
We are talking about the real information on the choices of the government and not the rumours of the palace.
Above all in the local ambit people could start politics conforming our days, exploiting the potentialities that the information technology and the telematics could put on the citizen’s service.
Doubtlessly a strong resistance exists on the part of those who today retain power, and are used to do and undo practically without any control from the citizen.
I remember, about ten years ago, when I told an old local politician that information technology could make transparent and functional the relationship between administrators and administered. His emblematic answer was that such a transparency is not convenient for the administrators and that even the simplest and most immediate forms are not chosen for the citizens’ information.
It could be, in fact, relatively easy to make a monthly publication on the made choices and the future programmes of the
administrators together with budgets and reports; but unfortunately even this simple formula is almost willingly never used in order to make the citizens more amd more unaware and so inactive. It could be objected that the classical pamphlet or the local journal would involve costs, times, distribution difficulties and consequently temporal and economic burdens. But neverthless the basic problem remains the political will and the necessity of a wide information distribution network that today informatics can put into practice. Maybe someone will smile at the candour of these sentences; I am thinking of the already cited political man, who, by now blessed in his armour of power and compromise, well knows that people must be governed unaware and unlearned and that basically it is for their good that the politicians work and intrigue. God save Democracy........ Let’s see, then, what adjustments could be made to the information interchange and to the means of keeping the citizens better informed about what happens in the power centres and how he can really take part to the active political life.
Most of the traditional means of communication are unidiretional, that is news travels only in one direction, without any possibility of asking for ulterior information.
Typical examples of such are: television, newspapers, radio, periodicals and anything else daily proposed. Citizens are then passive subjects of mostly unsatisfactory and scarcely analyzable news, that is such that they do not satisfy at all the real interests of the audience, so addicted to indolence, typical of ignorance. We can do a comparison with the old patriarcal societies, in which, when the father spoke, there was no possibility for his children to reply. These are our means of information. It seems incredible, then, that in 2000 the only means given to the citizen to show his opinion is still linked to the traditional and inefficient ones. Consequence of that is a badly informed and injustly passive electoral body, erroneously giving faith to the political men through elections. It is like a blank check that can be spent how they want. In Italy most of the houses where people live have the same characteristics, typical of an unforgetable era of our history and culture.
Thanks to these technologies a citizen can receive and give information in a very short time; so the utopia of a mass participation to the political choices can become reality. Not at random all the organs, so called of information, tend to give wrong news, exalting or not the computer and its potentiality. Never inform in order to maintain the supremacy in the information management, this is the policy of the mass means of communication. Surely you will ask how computer can enter in the political sphere ....... I hope that the following chapters will give you an answer.
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND POWER
The term "Informatics" derives from the linking of two words "Automatic" and "information", and you know well that applying such a science to the political practice would have a really revolutionary effect. One could even do science- fictional projects, where each citizen could govern himself without any political authority, only with the help of calculators. Who knows if such a hypothesis will become reality in the near future! But let us stay with our feet on the ground and see how the computer science can help our scheme of power. Applying the computer science by those who govern us would signify first of all to define better the programmes of government and the procedures to resolve the various situations; in general to rationalize and schematize the behaviour of those men voted into power. In fact suppose that the information mentality is learned by politicians (or that the politicians were chosen among the computer scientists) and that they are asked to do some schematizations of several situations (flow chart and similar), then make them pass to the compilation of logical programmes to resolve any analogue problem in a standard way.
Certainly not all the situations in the power decisions will be resolved using the computer, but surely some cathegories of problems will be at least simplified by it analysing the possible results and the successive choice on the base of concrete hypotheses. Until now we have not spoken about the computer, in fact in theory we can speak of the specific "science" without the computer, that is, one can do some choices simply applying logic which resolves problems, or even better, a series of problems with the same structure, but different in their data. A classical example of this is the research of the algorithm, that is a series of operations (not infinitive) which direct to the solution of a cathegory of problems simply changing the starting data. If we apply such a thory to the political sector, it might seem banal because of the scarcity of logical choices made by our political leaders and because of the real complexity of the variables that every political problem has. But we can also object that the most part of variables and problems is created by these leaders to hide their real need of power and that the problems themselves could be reduced a lot, if they were not complicated willingly.
Any political leader, then, could object that the problems are never the same, and that the strategies to apply are always different. This is not true and it has been demonstrated by the variety of applications in every sector in which the computer science shows its efficiency. One could mention its application in every field: from accountancy to industrial management, from grafics to agriculture, from medicine to meteorology and so on, but politics are untouchable. Why don’t we try to constitute a group of experts who can exhamine the potentiality of practical uses of the computer science in the political power management.
Such practical uses should interest the same political structure of the central government, "Camera" (Chamber of Deputies), "Senato" (Upper House) and the various "ministeri" (ministries) and be then applied in the local autonomies, that is, "Commune", "Province" and "Region". We should start from a pure research phase in order to define algorithms and procedures for reducing the burocratic, exhecutive and legislative iter of the above-mentioned structures and then to apply the learned strategies with the help of an adeguate informatic strumentation, computers and various terminals.
Why don’t we consider later or contemporarily the application possibilities that offer the telematics ??? Telematic science, "distant automatic information", is an instrument that could act in a real revolutionary way in the democracy of our country. Suppose, for example, to create a structure, through which the centres of power (Comunes, Provinces...) are doted with medio-big-power computers (mainframe), able to make accessible the information contained in them to every telephon, modem and small domestic computer owner (for example the classical Commodore 64 or IBM compatible). From sure sources it derives that nowadays millions of Italians have already got such machines in their houses. Through such links the inforamtion flow between governors and citizens and viceversa would be at their disposal 24 hours a day in an automatic way. The governors could know the citizens’ opinions immediately, in real time and, still more important, the citizens would be able to understand what is happening in the power centres even from their homes and at the right moment.
The telematic application for the information interchange, as it is, is an already developed technology that from today on would benefit millions of Italians with the minimum expence. In a lot of sectors "Data banks" that can be consultated telematically for various needs, already exhist. The parliament itself has already got a data bank, accessible only for specialized people, to know all the laws, consultations, questions and motions, presented in Parliament. The simple fact to let any citizen use such information would already be a little step towards a better democracy. Of course such information would have to be organized at various levels of research and investigation: from the single abstract reference to the complete summary of the object in discussion. Let us not forget, then, that the way to know how the information is offered and structured is another central point. We think, in fact, that the same information can be given both in a fragmentary and contorted way or simply and completely ( the politicians would write exhaustively). Note that the computer puts on our disposal a high potentiality of data organization together with very great research possibilities of them according to many criteria.
It remains, instead, typically human to make the information comprehensible. But if following the parliamentary events is relatively interesting, it would be a different thing to have simple analogue summaries about the government activities and expenditures used for the state budget. Now things get more difficult because, if the official gazzette itself can inform us about the parliamentary rumours, it can get really prohibitive to put our hands on the state portfolio and about how our money is spent. Even here it is obvious that official balances exhist and theoretically publicized, but it is also true that behind every balance exhist a thousand interpretations. One thinks that all communal balances finish in a draw. A data bank on all the government resolutions to be realized together with its programmed expenditures would be an advantage which could be used via telematics by citizens. The cost of this would be really ridiculous and its management very simple to put into practice, at least in the experimental stages. It is obvious that other data banks could be put into function at various levels prefereably realized by technicians and not politicians. Our politicians would clearly disagree about it being realized.
We think, in fact, of the enormous increase of efficiency and production that the automation has produced in industry, and the relative decrease of the experts.
Of course this fact does not escape the politicians that do not see any use in transparency and functionality, but rather they make obstacles for clearly personal egoistic motives. But, neverthless, it would be better to go on thinking positively of the fluorishing of the data banks at communal, provincial, regional and national levels and of the molteplicity of the information that the citizen could have immediately disponable, and (this) even from today, clearly if the political will will permit it. Until now we have only examined the flow of political information to the citizens; let’s see how it would be viceversa. With the same apparatus already decribed (small computer, modem, tlephon) the politician could have confirmations and suggestions on political lines he is putting into practice. Of course in a first sperimental phase not everyone will have disponable a small computer but the consultable base would enlarge immediately beyond control. With such an instrument of communication the citizen could be asked to manifest his opinion not only once every three or more years, but theoretically in any moment of the day.
So the institution of popular referendum could be actuated with extreeme easiness and many times a year for different topics, with a bigger data demand that would cost almost nothing. Even if there were not official characteristics (for example not everyone has a small computer), surely the indications of such an informatic poll would certainly be on a much more significative number than on the modern researches as an example. Maybe now, it is worthwhile to describe more in detail an applicative example of the telematic technology. A main computer operates as the base of information collection and responds automatically to the telephon calls coming from all over our nation (and even all over the world). Clearly the call from the periphery must be made from another computer linked by phone. In answer to the call it will appear on the monitor (visual display unit) of the calling service (it could be the computer from our house) a series of choices both at consultation level and demand of data entry. For example if we want to know how much the defense ministry has spent last year, I could choose the balance key, from this one I would choose output data and among them I would visualize the defence ministry.
Obviously this assumes that in the central computer someone has already inserted the various menus and the relative information. Another possibility, instead, is to furnish us citizens with details from the main computer; after having consulted what I am interested in, I could give my opinion on the possible demands inserted into the main computer before. Among the possible choices , there could be the key "Referendum", and, among the latter, the Referenda of the month, for example:
- Liberalizing television channels
- Increasing wages to senators
If I wanted to answer about the hunting referendum, after choosing that argument, I could begin by answering a number of questions, much more articulated than the meagre and artificial referendum systems. Then everything would be elaborated at a low cost and in a very short time from the central computer itself. One could then better the dialogue between political parties and citizens, using the computer as a means of electronic mail; that is via telematics I could choose an alectronic post service and from it the party that interests me and the eventual "onorevole" whom I want to consult.
At this point it will be enough to use the keyboard of my computer as a normal typewriter and my message will be instantaneously transferred to the central computer, from which it will be reread by the person who is interested in it in every successive moment. It remains to see if the politicians really want to complicate their lives listening to what the people want to tell them. It would be much better to continue and react in the first person, listening as much as one can to some delegates once a year, and then follow one’s own egoistic and mere popular instinct. But one must consider that democracy is not a something won but it has always been conquered by more evoluted peoples. So we citizens must work until the cultural patrimony, linked with growing education and social wellfare, can be made to profit, permitting the citizens to participate actively in political life, being confortably sitting in an armchair at home and in the most convenient moment. We must rememeber, in fact, that who would answer and memorize our telematic messages, would be no more a volubile secretary, but a computer that would automatically and efficiently be at our doisposition twentyfour hours a day without any need of human help.
Don’t be afraid because the computer will be then brought up-to-date and consulted by other men, like an automatic assembly line, which is always programmed and controlled by the human hand. As till now stated and much more is already easily realizable from now on; as we have said they are already perfectly in function; there are in fact many data banks at various levels operating in this way. Only the argument trated changes, for example data banks exhist for tourism, for the chambers of commerce, for the law, for scientific research, for national and international invention patent, and for art and a thousand other things. Nowadays the said services can be used by only a few people, but both in Italy and abroad some applications already exhist on a large scale, with practically mass consumers. A classical example of the above are the Videotel and the Sip services and analogue services abroad, such as Videotex and similars in France and England. Thus the telematic instrument exists as long as one has the will to apply it to politics.
AN EXAMPLE OF APPLICATION AT A MUNICIPAL LEVEL
As an example, one could examine how the informatics can contribute and increase democracy at a communal level; obviously analogue remarks could be applied to every other institutional level. We must say that informatics already help the resolution of communal burocratic practices and accountancy a lot. For example many communes use computers for the registry offices, for certificates; other demands can be applied for at the accountancy offices and those of the personnel, as well as the technical offices that are already computerized. But the big jump of quality could be made effective with the informatic application to the power gestion, with the citizen who becomes an active part of the institutions. Nowaydays in most cases the power management has been taken into hand by very few people, who, because voted, do good or bad depending on their humour, reducing to the minimum the possibility of a face to face and dialogue with an average citizen. The only moment of contact with the population is still linked to the political meetings that take up a lot of the lord Mayors’ time with very few results.
The decisional moments take place within the walls of the communal councils, often inaccessible to the same coucillors of the minor political party; that should garantee the political pluralism. The same communal councils are mostly boring panthomimes, showing a pseudo-intellectual eloquence and destroying every logic and development. The consequence of this is the gradual separation of the citizen from the institutions: deserted communal councils, mistrust in the governors. To invert such a tendency the use of telematics may help. Of course such an instrument should tolerate a will of real democracy and transparency of information; without this, even a powerful means, such as that of telematics, would be destined to failure. We presuppose, now, the good will of our governors and look at the possible technological applications. The basic structure to realize such a telematic link is relatively simple, especially for the final user, that is the citizen. To put such a connection into practice, only three elements are necessary for the modern state:
- a small computer
- a modem
- a telephone line.
The computer must not be necessarily powerful; a small domestic computer is enough (from the Commodore 64 onwards) or a terminal videotel (which costs £.7000 a month including the hiring, the video and the keyboard), but used as a terminal on the local network, that is the costs of the Sip bill would be reduced to the cost of only a local call (£.150), without ulterior costs. The modem (that derives from modulator and demodulator) is no more than an instrument that permits the electronic impulses of the computer (bit) to travel on the dial line (modulation) and then to be converted into readable impulses from another computer (demodulation). The telephon line is the normal Sip line; it is enough to attach the modem from one part to the computer and from the other part to the telephone plug. The communal seat should have the same type of strumentation, powered by the processor, that can even be a normal IBM compatible or superior. And even in this case it is not a very expensive apparatus and most times already disponable in the most of Italian communes. The most important thing is the inside information that should be put in the principal computer; let’s see some possible ideas.
Of course all the voted decisions of the Communal Council could be inserted in it by a secretary, who, instead of typing the necessary relations on a normal typewriter, could use a Word Processor. Doing so all the citizens could immediately consult them from their houses and at any time. A similar thing could be done with the Town Council decisions, that are even more interesting, together with the relative expenses. It could be interesting to push the Lord Mayor’s ordinances into the computer too, using the same procedures. Then there could be a zone reserved for the contract competitions and competitive announcement for personnel. Then it would be interesting to have information about building contacts, always the cause of favouritism and discontent among many citizens. In this area of pure information one could add many other arguments: from the cultural initiative (with the expense that it would involve) to public works and other things that could be of public interest; from the train timetables to artistic information about the city.
Then there could be a relative zone of concrete services, such as a certificate via telematics, or the payment of taxes. But to this aim it would be necessary to adeguate properly the machinery, suitable to the telematic link. Some prototipes, located in the fixed places of the city, are already disponible to be used for self-service operations. For example in the Umbrian region an informatic station has been realized, called Totem (with a high cost) that should have permitted such services as automatic certificates. Many other solutions worthy of note are present in Italy. Until now we have described what the citizen can ask to commune. The interesting part, full of new prospectives, is perhaps that linked to the information that the citizen can furnish to the commune. Theoretically, developing adeguate procedures, the citizen could greatly influence the governing course of his commune, choosing the lines of principal development, proposed by a committee of experts. Remaining with our feet on the floor, let’s see what we can do right away. A possible application is that of informatic meetings; in fact the Lord Mayor could insert his meetings via telematics using an electronic mail service in which the citizen could send his demands via telematics and receive a reply through it.
It is deign to be mentioned the possibility of making popular consultations through the computer. For example if one wants to decide about the possibility of a new industrial instalment or about the location of a rubbish heap or whatever else must be decided by the citizen, one could use the telematic consultation. The mechanism of such an operation would be simple and automatic. The citizen, from his house, could express his opinion on any argument, simply by putting his computer on and writing on the keyboard his opinion, based on a series of questions that each time will be sent by the principal computer, and displayed on his monitor. Then the computer would automatically do the totals of the relative replies and furnish the results in a very short time. Such means, once installed, would always be disponable for however many consultations one wanted to make; the cost of such consultations would be ridiculous (just as much as a phone-call). Obviously the application of this system would have to go through an experimental stage, however highly significant, then to pass into being a definitive consultive and electoral instrument.
In fact with adeguate controls, such an instrument, besides being much more used, could substitute the traditional electoral consultations, that is the classical voting ballot-papers and ballot-boxes, with scrutineers and so on. In the case of informatic consultations everything would be faster and at much lower costs. And those who have no computer????? It would be enough to put on some fixed boxes in suitable public zones, available to all citizens. So, summing it up, we could have the following telematic services :
- Consultation of the town council resolutions
- Consultation of the municipal town council resolutions
- Lord Mayor’s ordinances
- Announcement of personnel employment town
- Building licence concession
- Cultural initiative
- Public works
- Information about the city
- Certificate services
- Tax payment
- Telematic hearings
- Popular consultations
- Electoral consultations.
All exposed is a small example on how a good information could be made with simple instruments and at low costs. A better information flow would surely increase the citizen’s interest in the public management. A more regular precence would bring to a more intense control of public expenses. In fact it seems absurd that each of us, when buying the most banal object, takes pains to save money, while it is taken for granted the expense of tens of milliards of "lire" a year that every small commune takes from our pokets. It would be desirable that a citizen partecipated in the management of public things, with the same enthusiasm as he partecipates in the football championships. We hope that the day will come, when people will willingly support the team of their own Commune.
NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS
If at a communal level the realization of a better informatic democracy is easily realizable, the process in the local ambit can be amplified without many complications at a national and international level. For example, in the national field one could think of a structure that from the central government would spread the information on all the peripheral network of the communes and from there to the citizens. This mediation is necessary because it is complex to connect millions of computers contemporarily, while, with a decentralized system which foresees an automatic updating of the dates, the system becomes notably less complicated. For the citizen nothing would change regarding the apparatus system, in fact with the same machinery already described, one could use various services, from the communal to the national ones and so on. It is like having a television that receives only one channel or more channels; the instrument is always the same, but the information can be notably amplified, increasing the TV networks.
The information to be sent from the government, as the centre of power, to the periphery, should be processed by an adeguate commission that synthesized the main events of the activities, both of the governement and parliament. Obviously besides the legislative activity even the work of the various ministeries should be reported. All the information should be directed to a main processor, from it the peripheral elaborator would receive the information, and then send it out directly to the citizens. In this case it would be necessary to up-date the data between the main computer and those of the communal seats. To do this a few hours a day would be enough; for everything else the communal computers would work as principal computers at the citizen’s disposition. In such a hypothesis the citizen would be able to use local and national information, both in consultation and data entry. For example at a national referendum the communes would function as electronic data collection centres from which the data collected in the central seats could be sent via telematics. Analogue things would be made for the inforamtion at a provincial and a regional level.
In such a case we must evaluate the hypothesis of a direct link between the citizen and such seats in order not to burden the communal structure too much.
In the communal seats it would be sufficient to have synthesis data about regional and provincial events, while, for more detailed information, the citizen could be directly linked to the interested source. It is worthwhile to punctualize how the link between the citizen’s computer and any central one works. The procedure of linking functions in the following way. After putting the computer on and connecting it through modem to the telephone, an adapt linking programme will guide the citizen to the compilation of the desired telephone number which will correspond to the source of the wanted information. For example there will be some telephone numbers established for the link via computer for one’s own commune, province or for any other interested institution. When you have made the desired number, an answer of "received message" will appear instantly on the monitor with an eventual request for the password. The password permits every citizen to have his own personal access key to the sources of information. The system is similar to that used by many of us of taking money out of Bancomat distributors; in that case we need to compose a secret code (password) to be able to have access to the operations of withdrawing money.
The password could be the fiscal code properly treated. In our case this mechanism would garantee the security of the voting systems, permitting to the voting people the right to vote only once in the case of a referendum or other votings. After typing the password, the principal computer verifies its correctness and later permits the access, starting the process. At this point the binding is completed and all the possible choices that the data bank puts at disposal will appear on the video-screen. To call another source of information, for example the regional one, one must do the same operations, only that in this case the telephone number to dial will be that of the regional operating centre. At a private level many telematic sources of information (data banks), that work as above, are already functioning. Calling the selected telephone number and having the proper password, one can have information from economics to humanistic science, from art to patents, from medicine to law and so on for many sectors of interest. The private data banks are generally against payment and one must usually pay an annual subscription and a certain quota for every consultation.
Besides national structure it would be interesting to have information at a superior level, for example a European one. By supposition let us think about the farmers who must often be conditioned in their production by the community demand or the research institutes and the industries, which cohoperate to the European projects and by the citizens themselves, who will be more and more interested in the European events, both at economical and political level. Even in this new political structure, one could partecipate in telematics, organizing such services and instruments that let the citizens and the governors have a continuous flow of information, both at a proposal and control level. In this case the structure would see an ulterior pyramidal uncrease with the sources of the European government on the on top, which will give information to the single national governments, and from here the news will flow as a water-fall from the communes to the citizens and viceversa. We can well understand the power of such a structure that, if well organized, could influence in a significant way the citizen’s partecipation in the institutions, with a certain development regarding the level of information the citizen can reach and a potential reduction of the delegations that each of us is forced, until now, to entrust to the politicians.
One could enter into the details about information that could be exchanged with the European government, even if the type of the necessary information is that already explained at municipal and national level. For example one could memorize reports on the European parliament works, devided accordingly to the areas of interest (agricolture, research, industry, university, etc..). News about particular (European)community projects could be interesting, such as Amadeus for University, Eureka for research and so on. Other information of common interest could be that regarding scholar- ships and help for the depressed zones or education. As usual it could be a reserved area for the citizen’s participation, with the possibility of electronic mail and one regarding the direct partecipation, with telematic referendum inside matters of European interest. It is better to remember that for many years the European (Market) Community has been making enormous investments in the data bank and telecomunication sectors. European data banks exhist such as Echo, Cordis, etc, that are used to spread the telematic culture. The only negative thing about this initiative is that thay are exclusively for the cream of society. Moreover the European Community spends millions of Echo but does not promote a campain for the mass basic instruction of telematics and does not spend a lira in that sector.
MODERN AND FUTURE TECHNOLOGY.
The realization of the telematic system to be applied to politics, can be actuated without great complications from today with a normal dial network. To do so it would be enough to set up an adeguate (dial) branch exchange in the place which furnishes information. So the citizen would have at his disposal one or more telephone numbers with eventual authomatic research of the free line that would permit him or more citizens to exchange news contemporarily with the same computer. Obviously fisical limits exhist with the telephone lines now in use at an economic and management level of more lines at the same time. Such limits are the same of a switchboard of any ministry that, for example, can have a certain number of limited lines and no more. Such an inconvenience can be better managed with computers; in fact the maximum limit of the lines connected to a computer is usually superior to the possible limits of today’s switchboards. Moreover networks dedicated to the computer exhist, as the Itapac or the dial network data, as the ISDN, one with enormous potentiality. Then computers can work in multiuser system on more lines (that is the same computer can answer contemporarily more than one working place, commonly known as terminals).
For example one computer can reply to hundreds of different users at the same time. But we must consider the inefficacy of the telephone lines and the modern exchanges; consequently the bettering of the system should take place at this level. Of course a notable impulse and a better transmission of data and telephone commutation should occur with the application of optic fibres (fine fibre-glass wires that will substitute the copper ones of the telephone lines.) Such fibres make a luminous signal travel instead of an electrical one and now for many years in all the nations, people have been substituting both lines and dial branch exchanges with the quoted technology of optic fibres. The advantages of such technology are the better efficiency of transmissions (there are less disturbances) besides multiplying notably the volume of the connected users, linking with the same diameter of the linking cable. Then particular techniques exhist applicable to the computer data, but not to the vocal transmission. Such techniques of data compression, let one transmit and receive more data in the same time with the use of the computer.
Moreover, with the information interchange via computer, one can priviously decide the linking time of each user in order to discourage eccessively intrusive people who want to monopolize the dial line. If today telephone is the easiest means to build up our telematic democracy, it must be said that other routes could be followed. For example the same things could be made with a transmission system through a transmitter and receiver radio unit, radio bridges and eventual communication satellites. In this case only the means of two-way transmission would change, that, instead of being a normal telephone, would be a two-way radio. This method would better the efficacy of the system, but it would be not as useful for the citizens, who, instead of using the handy and known telephon, would have to buy a new two-way transmitter. Such a solution is valid at the cost of administration level (one would not pay the telephone call), but it could be valid for private users who are looking for information at a level of long-distance or international calls (think of a link with an American data bank).
Instead for our type of structure that prefers the central communal linking, even the gestion cost is reletively low. Another possibility, that at the moment is only unidirectional for information consultations, can be the production of the compact disc to be then distributed to the citizens. This technology has the advantage of condensing in a small space a lot of information; think that all the volumes of an enciclopedia can be condensed into one disc that is only a few centimeters in diameter. At the moment it would be a technology reserved for only a few because the compact-disc reader must be necessarily contained in a personal computer with an expense of various millions.
However such a technology is strongly developing and even an immediate interchange of information is not possible; it could be used in the future, combined with the already described technology. A future perspective could be a cabled city. That is no more data transmission but direct and stable links between citizens and centres of power. In practice another service could be added in our houses besides having a public network for the elecricity, water and telephone: we will have also a plug for information transmission. Such a network could be made of optic fibres, that would be a stable connection between our houses and the sorting communal centre, that is able to send information of various kinds.
One could think of having in every house a polifunctional terminal, able to manage and process text-books, television messages and telematic functions of various types. Such a polivalent terminal could be the synthesis of different functionalities like television, computer, videorecorder, printer, compact-disc reader, telex, telefax and telephone and anything else that can be of service for the information interchange.
A TRAVEL INSIDE THE TWENTY HUNDRED YEAR POLICY
Let’s think for a moment to find ourselves in a cabled city of the present future with our polifunctional telematic computer, where from our house we can have the world at hand. Finally we would be no more objects of information but active subjects with the possibility to manage our informative panorama inside infinitive possible choices. The television itself could become a real means of information instead of a depressing instrument of commercial bonality. Even spare time could be managed by oneself; it would be us to choose which film to see from a more or less infinitive videoteca, or we could update with video courses about Japanese art or new informatic techniques (note that the state television has never made programmes about informatics and the use of computers). In this telematic Eden, the politician citizen, will be finally able to practice the new informatic democracy. No more sinister political intrigues and incredible non-comunications to hide the inconsistence of programmes never programmed and left to the emptiness of those who have transformed the policy of everybody into a personal fact.
The community, according to the real will of the majority, establishes clear objectives in economical and social policy. The new politicians (now called popular coordinators) are working on synthetizing the report of the latest telematic consultations and schematizing new aims on which the citizens will have to express their opinion. The citizen, thanks to industrial automation, works only four hours a day and has the possibility to occupy some of his spare time to the political management. On his videoterminal run the final balances of the expences effectuated for public works in his country and immediately afterwords the new projects relative to the European Comunity. Full time politicians do no more exhist, but every year political cohordinators are elected among those who have proposed the most voted programmes. The coordinators, with the help of the computer, prepare the schemes of the most important problems; such schemes will be then submitted for the citizen’s consense or dissense. The results of these dealings will be analized with simulation programmes that will permit them to verify the application of the effectuated choices. The possibility of informatic intrigues have more or less diminuished in respect to the scandalous tricks to which we assisted when the scrutinies were done by hand.
The increased civic sense has given notable results both in transparency and efficacy of the public apparatus, making the state balance active even thanks to the drastic reduction of the current public spenditure.
It seems really sad to interrupt the clime of this open-eyes dream and to think that many of those things could really happen in few decades. In any case it seems really incromprehensible why the great possibility offered by the "marriage" between informatics and democracy is not taken into consideration. Think of a popular government with automatic information, mostly managed by the citizens. However even intermediate solutions, that anticipate the improving of the information flow between citizens and power and viceversa, would bring society certain development of our power management system. Cetainly the aim to reach can seem at first ambitious. Then it could be easy from those who are afraid of the circulation of information to speak ill of the telematic instrument. I am already listening to those who cry for spersonalization of politics, for the difficulty of realization of the smallest mentioned plan, for the possibility of information tricks (as if there were not already enough tricks of various kinds).
Some people could show the computer as the worst enemy of democracy, a monster of Orweillian memory. It would be a real sin to loose the telematic train now offered to us to get on the coach of power.
I have written this book in the August 1989 and I have soon realized that, at that time, nobody would have taken it into consideration. In fact I sent a copy of it to every parliamentary Italian leader, to the President and to the main national televisions without receiving any reply. Now we are in 1995, many things have been changing and I hope it has arrived the right moment to start an even more radical transformation of our institutions; that is we are ready to exploit the power of the computer in order to improve our political system and our information spreading, making use of the computer science as a new instrument of democracy. The basic idea is easy and it can be summarized in this way:
- A deep study of the main problems of our country.
- Identification and synthesis of the problems to be solved.
- A detailed list of the identified problems.
- The several currents of thought and of interest should be ìnserted into a series of main computers and put so on disposal through telemetry way, as well as through all the traditional means of communication.
From now onwards citizens, from their own houses, can become protagonists in politics, selecting the ideas they think to be the best ones. How.... ??
-Choosing the list, we think, with the most valid programme.
-Consulting at any time the resolutions of the chosen organ of the party, having the main made choices on the video
screen of the computer at home (town council resolutions and the municipal ones,questions,announcements,contracts,etc.
- Being called monthly, for instance, to ask for a series of questions (Electronic Referendum) about probable choices of way, (through the computer).
-Proposing both new problems and suggesting solutions that will be analized by new control bodies and then sent them to the committee which will write out the new list of problems to submit to the citizens’ attention.
Refining that technique, we citizens could soon arrive at a selfgoverning policy, where the control committee (the modern politicians) should ever more have just an operating and organizing function.
Participation and circulation of ideas could let us live a period of societal exciting cultural improvement with the discovery of new values and the enlargement of new orizons. We could live a new Renaissance and a rationalistic period of extraordinary dimensions.
THE PROBLEM OF THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CULTURE
I will finish wìth a personal reflection about the absence of any political will to spread the "computer science culture"........... . Just so, the "computer science culture", one of the most meaningful cultures of our era, is seen by the powerful only as an instrument to submit and direct. They abuse it for their own aims and then spread it over the ignorant and ill-informed crowd, intentionally wanted so by them.
Everything till here said cannot be left apart from the will to spread the "computer science culture" to all levels, because it is not limited to the use of the computer, but it is a new way to create, think, know, write, draw projects, invent, imagìne ...........
A wrong use of this new phylosophy could bring us to great disasters.
It is enough thinking of the bad use of the computer science in the more and more complex games, like the virtual reality, which could become a new drug, or on the contrary what extraordinary vehicle of culture it could become for example to visit musea or imaginary places (see the guide on Florence city and Giotto’s city).
Moreover the mondial networks are going to introduce an interactive TV, not for giving us a larger number of news, but for creating a new mixture of games and advertisements. Examples of that can be found in America and now even in Europe (see the various Quizzies, the Multipoint papers, the Spanish Telepick or the more intelligent French Teleplus).
All these services will invade our homes with the aim of making our commercial TV more stupid, on the contrary the tendence will not change for example for Televideo or more interesting services about social and cultural news.
We are hopeful for a future TV, which, using the new technologies like the Teletext, operates in an interactive way and has first of all social, democratic and cultural aims.
Another very interesting argument and already treated by the several Nobel Prizes in economy would be that of reduced and flexible working hours for the employees. The citizens would be allowed to arrange their working and spare time better and they will be working for example for six mornings instead of for five days, or for six hours a day instead of eight. It would let many citizens have more time to dedicate to culture. Culture needs sacrifice, application and above all free-time. But nowadays, in spite of the technological revolution and the increased production with the same number of operators, the tendence is to produce more and increase the unemployment instead of reducing the working hours and give everubody an occupation.
Already now, it exists a great social injustice, where the dominating class is allowed to insert itself into this new culture, which is then the hauling motor of our society, whereas instead, the large quantity of people is forced to ignorance and consequently voted to unemployment in the near future. The gap between people knowing these "alphabets" and those not, will be wider and wider.
So the "third world" will be geographically defined no more, but it will be the cultural difference to erect the new bars and just inside our own towns. This could be avoided pointing at the mass spriding of the "computer science culture".
I will give you an example in my "province": a lot of money is spent every year in order to train few hundreds of people, dozens of milliards of lire!
Why don’t we place some mass-cultural projects side by side to these preiseworthy formative projects in order to spread the computer science ??? I am sure that, with one thousandth of that money, several thousands of people could be made grown up culturally. How ...???? I have got some ideas .... Let us look for them all together in order to find some answers.
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Copyright 1994 by Giuseppe Fortunati.