Will computers be able to solve all human problems?

A saleswoman showing how a computer solves a certain problem.

Perhaps, until now, you have thought of computers as “electronic brains” that can answer any question or solve any problem.

While this is the view often popularized on TV science fiction series and movies, is it an accurate one?

There are some persons who have been led to believe that through human’s efforts a super computer is just around the corner, one that will revolutionize human affairs.

Such a super computer, some believe, will solve all human’s problems in government, science, food supply and medicine. 

Is such a trust realistic? 

What are the abilities and limitations of a computer?

Most persons are familiar with some type of machine that is used to solve mathematical problems. An example is the electric adding machine.

No one who has used this device would imagine it to be a substitute for the human brain. 

It is quite obvious that, although this machine can add faster and with greater accuracy than the average person, it is still simply a mechanical device. 

Perhaps this fact is easier to perceive with such a device because it is mechanical in nature; that is, the electric adding machine simply has a motor to drive a mechanical apparatus. 

The operation of such a machine can be seen through mechanical processes.

The concepts involved in the operation of a computer are very similar to those of a simple mechanical math solver  machine. 

However, since the computer is not mechanical, it may seem more magical than its more mundane, mechanical cousin, because its operation by means of electronic impulses is invisible to the human eye. 

The computer achieves through electronic circuitry what the adding machine accomplishes through the use of mechanical processes.

The computer, like an adding machine, can do nothing if left to itself. 

As the book How to Live with Your Computer, by Paul T. Smith, puts it:

Often heard is the statement, ‘The computer does this,’ or, ‘The computer made that mistake.’ Data processing equipment . . . is inanimate. It will perform only as instructed; it can take no responsibility for its actions, good or bad. Like any other facility, the computer is no more efficient than the person responsible for it."

The computer’s only truly automatic action is its repetition of operating instructions; humans must specify the act of logic the computer is to perform.   

Humans’s knowledge therefore becomes the fountainhead of any data processing system.

The advantage of computers is that the instructions need to be prepared only once. 

These instructions (the “program”) are prepared in such a way that they may be stored in much the same manner that music is stored to be played back as often as desired on a music player. 

The instructions can then be read back into the computer when it is desired for them to perform the function for which they were designed. 

This process of preparing instructions for the computer to perform some task is called “programming.”

Now, if the designers of a computer program do not make the instructions comprehensive enough to cope with unusual occurrences and all possible eventualities, then what? 

Why, the computer will be unable to handle the situation, or it will make false assumptions and produce wrong results.

Of a computer’s several parts, the main part is the so-called memory. 

It is in this “memory” that the program, or instructions, are stored while performing the task to be accomplished. 

The computer, depending upon its size, has thousands or millions of available positions for holding the instructions and the numbers to be used. 

Each position has an address associated with it in much the same way that each house on a street has an address, enabling you to find a specific house. 

The instructions in the program can then “tell” the circuits in the computer where to find the number to be added, where to store the answer, where to find the next instructions, and so forth.

From the amount of detailed instructions required, you can see that the programmer preparing the instructions provides the method for solving a problem. 

The programmer is the one who provides the information to be used in the computations. 

The computer does not decide how to solve the problem any more than the adding machine does. 

The computer only follows the path of instructions provided by the programmer. 

Therefore, a computer cannot solve a problem without human intellect to provide the formula. 

It can only speed up the working of the formula that is supplied by a human.

It is apparent, then, that human's cannot rely only on computers to solve all the great problems facing the human race. 

World leaders are unable to supply a formula for world peace for humans to work out, let alone prepare such instructions for a computer. 

Biologists and medical researchers do not have the means to devise a formula for perfect health and everlasting life. 

Social workers, in their own wisdom, have no solutions for racial hatred, greed and selfishness.

Thus, while computers can be used to provide faster solutions to problems that can be defined by humans, they cannot provide answers to problems for which humans have no formulas.