5.1: Beneficial and Harmful Effects
Think about the activities that make up day-to-day life: going to school, shopping, working, eating, and so on. Increasingly, computing innovations have come to play a role in more and more of these activities. As new innovations come out, people will change how they go about their day to day business to take advantage of the new technology, which will lead to new societal trends and even more new technology to take advantage of them...
Computing innovations have fostered progress and creativity in many ways. Machines have vastly improved the medical field, saving countless lives. Engineers take advantage of computing innovations to collect data and design products. Communications have especially flourished; today, we can communicate instantaneously with people anywhere around the world. Even the artistic world has benefited from new ways to create, share, and sell creative works.
A new computing innovation with the potential to aid both the medical and engineering fields is 3D printing. In the image above, a 3D printer is used to make a hand brace. Image source: Tom Claes on Unsplash
However, computing innovations have both their good sides and their not-so-good sides. (Anyone who's been scrolling Instagram at three in the morning on a school night can attest to that!) Not every side or effect of a computing innovation is known in advance, either. Innovations take on a life of their own after they're created.
Consider the following:
Image source: GIPHY and Bill Nye the Science Guy
The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 as a way for the scientific community to share information in a faster and easier way, and has since evolved greatly.
Targeted advertising is intended to help businesses turn a profit, but it incentivizes the collection of private information and has the potential to be abused.
Machine learning and data mining have greatly benefitted many fields, but their findings are also susceptible to biases and may unintentionally contribute to discrimination.
Computing innovations can be used to both help and to hurt people. Identity theft, cyber-bullying... the list goes on.
Responsible programmers try to look at the big picture when it comes to the computing innovations they create. They try to catch potential channels for abuse or harm before they can be exploited.
However, although they do their best, at the end of the day it's just not possible for programmers to predict all the ways that a computing innovation could be used. There are too many possibilities and external variables involved, especially when the innovation covers a large scale. (Hence why Black Mirror exists.)
It's important to note that the effects of a computing innovation are up for debate. People can have widely differing opinions on these effects—some people might think they're good, some people might think they're bad. It's also important to mention that there have been unintended positive effects of computing innovations as well. They've led to surprising advances in many fields.