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5.1 Beneficial and Harmful Effects

3 min readβ€’march 13, 2023

Minna Chow

Minna Chow


AP Computer Science Principles ⌨️

80Β resources
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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. For example, companies like Amazon and Instacart have changed the way many people shop. Instead of going to a physical store, people can now buy their groceries, clothing, and other consumer goods online.

Beneficial Effects of Computing Innovations

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.
  • The artistic world has also benefited from new ways to create, share, and sell creative works.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-dhnh8RGNpBCw.jpg?alt=media&token=131b2785-484a-42c2-b370-5dc970194572

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.

Harmful Effects of Computing Innovations

Computing innovations can be used to both help, but also to hurt people. Identity theft, cyber-bullying... the list goes on. Indeed, one of the key points of Big Idea 5 is being able to understand, explain, and identify on a multiple-choice test what some of these harmful effects are, and many of the topics in this unit are about the potentially harmful effects.
  • 5.2 Digital Divide is about the ways people can be harmed due to unequal access to technology combined with the increasing importance of technology to the world
  • 5.3 Computing Bias is about how technology today can reflect and exacerbate currently existing human biases, potentially reinforcing harmful stereotypes and perpetuating inequality.
  • 5.5 Legal and Ethical Concerns is about the legal and ethical challenges computing innovations pose to currently existing groups of people or practices, a key example being copyright law.
  • 5.6 Safe Computing is about the risks in day-to-day computing use, such as being infected with a virus or having your accounts hacked into.
Here are some more harmful effects of computing innovations:
  • Loss of privacy, and the use of private information gathered by companies
  • Replacement of humans by computing innovations, leading to the loss of previously existing jobs and economic hardship for the now-unemployed workers
  • Dependence on technology
  • Negative health consequences
For many computing innovations, the effects are up for debate. People can have widely differing opinionsβ€”some people might think a certain computing innovation is good, and some people might think it's bad. The same person can think a computing innovation is both good and bad.

Unintended Effects of Computing Innovations

It's also important to mention that there have been unintended effects of computing innovations as well, both positive and negative.
Consider the following:
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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.
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, 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 is very powerful or covers a large scale.
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