The Internal Revenue Service says it wants to make it faster and easier for taxpayers to get their refunds in the future, so it is experimenting with a new approach in Illinois during the 1989 tax paying season. As a resident of Illinois, you will be able to file your tax return electronically, by hooking into the IRS computer to complete your tax return and provide the necessary information on your income, taxes withheld, etc. The IRS says if this experiment goes as planned, it will speed processing of tax returns by fifty percent, allowing refunds to be paid within three weeks instead of the usual five or six weeks. As to be expected, it is not all altruism on the part of the Internal Revenue Service. A return sent to the IRS electronically costs about $9 to process. A paper return mailed to the agency costs $72.50. The reduced labor costs will save the revenuers about $200 million over the next ten years, primarily through reduced labor costs, filing space and paper work. The agency will still have some paper mail to process, since even the returns filed electronically will require a signature form to be mailed in along with W-2 forms, but the work will be cut down drastically from the current system. The IRS believes the lure of a faster refund, which can be deposited directly into a financial institution, will motivate taxpayers to file earlier. If their theory is correct, and if the "Illinois Experiment" works out as planned, the electronic filing program will be expanded nationwide over the next 2-3 years. Taking advantage of the electronic option will cost taxpayers in other ways, however. The computer link will only be available through tax preparation services. The IRS believes that offering access to their computers to all personal computer users would cause them 'some concerns about hackers and phreakers getting after us, making trouble for us..', coordinator of the new program in the Chicago IRS offices, Regina Nixon said. She said the agency is looking at ways to allow personal computer users to plug directly into the system while at the same time keeping the system secure, but nothing has been decided yet. She said one possibility will be that terminals will be provided in IRS offices where the public can come in, sit down and work, under the 'guidance' (watchful eye, perhaps?) of IRS employees. Linda Jordan, of H&R Block, the national tax preparation service based in Kansas City said they will probably charge an additional fee of $18-30 per electronic filing to cover their own costs for the program. She noted that the popularity of the program at first would depend in large part on the amount of the refund and how quickly the taxpayer was interested in getting it. The new electronic filing program will only be for people with refunds coming. Those folks who owe money will still have to pay the old-fashioned way, by writing a check which is enclosed with a paper return. Taxpayers in Illinois can begin using this new option later this year as they begin the process of reporting their 1988 income. The new electronic system is expected to receive its biggest workout during the first quarter of 1989, and the results of that test will detirmine to what extent it should be promoted nationally. Dixon, of the IRS office, said they had not yet figured out a way to induce people to file early when they had to pay additional money; but one thing under consideration is to combine the electronic filing approach with a slight discount to the taxpayer who authorizes an automatic draft from their bank account to pay the taxes due. Now dear Risks Readers: Can't you *just see* and *just imagine* the several possibilities for corruption here on the part of the tax preparation services and others? The theory that it will be more efficient sounds great, but oh what havoc it will cause if the 'wrong people' start diddling the computers!!
Defense Week reports that an unclassified report of the General Accounting Office (GAO) reveals that the Navy withheld testing problems of the Aegis air defense system from the Congress. "Personnel and Aegis equipment were not subjected to targets or tactics that would be found in combat," and the reports sent to the Congress by the Navy omitted "unfavorable test results." The GAO said that the favorable assessment of the Aegis system by John Krings, the head of testing for the Pentagon, "was not supported by the evidence." The Navy report to the Congress, says the GAO, "potentially led Congress to fund weapons systems whose true operational effectiveness and suitability are unknown." Gary Chapman, Executive Director, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
The July 18 Los Angeles Times carries an op-ed piece by Peter D. Zimmerman, a physicist who is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and director of its Project on SDI Technology and Policy: MAN IN LOOP CAN ONLY BE AS FLAWLESS AS COMPUTERS. [In the Iranian Airbus shootdown,] the computers aboard ship use artificial intelligence programs to unscramble the torrent of infor- mation pouring from the phased array radars. These computers decided that the incoming Airbus was most probably a hostile aircraft, told the skipper, and he ordered his defenses to blast the bogey (target) out of the sky. The machine did what it was supposed to, given the programs in its memory. The captain simply accepted the machine's judgment, and acted on it.... Despite the fact that the Aegis system has been exhaustively tested at the RCA lab in New Jersey and has been at sea for years, it still failed to make the right decision the first time an occasion to fire a live round arose. The consequences of a similar failure in a "Star Wars" situation could lead to the destruction of much of the civilized world. [Descriptions of reasonable scenarios ....] The advocates of strategic defense can argue, perhaps plausibly, that we have now learned our lesson. The computers must be more sophisticated, they will say. More simulations must be run and more cases studied so that the artificial intelligence guidelines are more precise. But the real lesson from the tragedy in the Persian Gulf is that computers, no matter how smart, are fallible. Sensors, no matter how good, will often transmit conflicting information. The danger is not that we will fail to prepare the machines to cope with expected situa- tions. It is the absolute certainty that crucial events will be ones we have not anticipated. Congress thought we could prevent a strategic tragedy by insisting that all architectures for strategic defense have the man in the loop. We now know the bitter truth that the man will be captive to the computer, unable to exercise independent judgment because he will have no indepen- dent information, he will have to rely upon the recommendations of his computer adviser. It is another reason why strategic defense systems will increase instability, pushing the world closer to holocaust — not further away.
For a good overview of AEGIS, you may wish to check out: Adam, John A. _Pinning Defense Hopes on Aegis_, IEEE Spectrum, 25:6, pp 24-27, June 1988. -charles
I recently discovered the RISKS of an insufficiently grounded building the hard way. Lightning struck! For several years the VAX systems that have existed in this hall at the University of Rhode Island, have been plagued with an unusual number of system crashes. All of these crashes coincided with electrical storms. Unfortunately, no one bothered to research the problem, until now. A simple system could have saved up to thousands of dollars in equipment. The campus sprawls down the side of one of the higher hills in the area. The building is a four story building, which resides at the top of the hill. The VAX resides on the third floor of this four story building. But there are no lightning rods on the top of this building to dissipate the force of a lightning strike! So the VAX has acted as the perfect lightning rod, generating a positive electrical field sufficient enough to attract lightning. Thousands of dollars have gone to solve a problem that a four dollar rod, and 20 dollars worth of wire could have solved. Don Mac Phee p.s. All standard and some non-standard disclaimers apply. I do not represent the University. I just comment on it.
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