6.1a: Impacts of Technology
What are the issues created by technology?
As the use of computers and technological devices continues to rise every year, this increase brings with it a range of different types of issues. Categories of issues described on this page include:
Legal & Privacy issues
Culture relates to society and how different parts of the world vary in terms of computer and internet usage.
The Digital Divide
This term relates to the gap between those people who have access to modern digital technology (such as computers and the internet) and those who have limited access.
'Limited access' could be devices at home or shared devices or having lower-performance (cheaper) computers and low-speed internet connections.
The digital divide can be seen in different ways, such as:
People in cities vs. People in rural areas.
Younger people vs. Elderly people.
Developed countries vs. Developing countries.
The digital divide is an important ethical issue because digital technologies have led to numerous international benefits including boosted growth, improved product delivery, enhanced communication and increased opportunities.
However, this impact is uneven and these positive impacts are mostly occurring in technologically-advanced regions such as North America, Western Europe and Japan.
Regions like some nations in Africa and Central Asia have limited digital infrastructure and government instability, leading to poor internet speeds, high costs and limited resources.
What do you think can be done to bridge the digital divide?
Whose job is it to bridge the gap?
Who will pay for the technology?
Changes to Work
The internet, the development of new technologies such as cloud storage and increased video communication have transformed the way that many businesses operate across the world. Staff may be able to work from home or access documents collaboratively outside of the traditional workplace, such as cafes or on public transport.
Some jobs have moved abroad to save costs, such as help centres for online issues. Tasks can be outsourced to freelancers in other countries where people are content to be paid less for their time and services. For example, some companies will hire temporary web developers from countries such as India to work for them for a lower salary than local workers.
Another change to work that technology has brought is the loss of jobs, especially low-skilled jobs such as factory workers that have seen their roles replaced by technology and automation. However, technology has also created millions of new jobs, including installing and maintaining the machines that replace other roles.
Environmental issues concern the natural world and the negative effects of producing, using and discarding computer systems and devices.
Energy and Material Consumption
In the past 30 years, the number of technological devices has increased astronomically and thousands of new devices are manufactured each day. These devices need to be assembled using a range of materials, including plastics, metals and some rarer elements and need a considerable amount of electrical power to run.
Certain systems like web servers and data centres must be powered on all day, every day, which uses a large amount of energy.
Pollution and Waste
Generating the electricity to power computers creates pollution - an average PC could require up to 50% more energy per year than a fridge. Computers are difficult to recycle and discarded components can lead to land, water and air pollution due to harmful materials, such as lead and mercury, leaking into the environment.
Smartphone trends are also negative for the environment as new devices are released yearly, with minor upgrades that people buy to appear fashionable and up-to-date. To lessen the environmental impact, people should reuse and recycle their devices.
Ethics relates to what is considered right or wrong. Often this is subjective - people may have differing opinions on the issue.
Uses of drones:
Filming and photography for television, movies and special events.
Monitoring pollution levels in the atmosphere.
Tracking and monitoring wildlife, such as rhino populations in Africa.
Disaster zone response, such as searching for survivors following an earthquake.
Delivery companies are developing drones to quickly deliver goods across cities.
Drones are used by the military to target sites in other countries, such as American soldiers deploying surveillance drones in Syria.
Should you need a licence to buy and fly a drone?
Should drones be used to monitor the public? Like flying CCTV?
Should drones be used to deliver items? Like Amazon packages?
If a drone hits a plane and it crashes, what should the punishment be?
A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is remotely operated and can be used for a wide range of purposes.
Self-driving cars (also known as autonomous vehicles) are currently in the development and testing stage with companies like Tesla and Amazon.
Benefits of self-driving cars include:
In theory, driving will be safer because cars are less likely to make mistakes that humans do and they can’t become distracted or tired.
Self-driving cars should be more fuel-efficient because they take the most direct route to destinations and do not get lost.
‘Drivers’ in the car can perform other tasks instead of driving, such as work or planning.
Autonomous vehicles could include trucks and vans to automate the delivery and freight industries. Trucks could drive overnight to deliver goods whereas currently, human drivers must take breaks every few hours.
Drawbacks of self-driving cars include:
Cars could still crash as code and software processes may fail.
The technology is still in development and will be very expensive for the first few years when self-driving cars are available to purchase.
Jobs may be lost such as delivery and truck drivers whose vehicles are equipped with self-driving technology. Other industries like motorway services and hotels may also be affected.
Would you trust a car to drive itself?
Who is to blame if a self-driving car crashes? The car maker? The people in the car? The software writers?
What should happen to the people whose jobs are taken by self-driving vehicles?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the act of computers replacing humans to analyse data and make decisions.
In recent years AI has become more common in the home and on devices like smartphones; assistants such as Siri and Alexa are prime examples of modern home AI.
The weather today is cloudy.
Benefits of AI include:
Processes are sped up as computers can analyse large amounts of data much quicker than a human.
AI can be used when a human is unavailable, such as using a symptom checker on the internet for a minor illness rather than booking and waiting for a doctor.
Repetitive or time-consuming tasks can instead be completed by a computer, such as searching and sorting scientific data.
Drawbacks of AI include:
AI can store and process a lot of personal data, especially personal assistants like Alexa which are always listening for ‘wake words’. This data can be viewed by the company that develops it and could be hacked by attackers.
AI is programmed by humans and mistakes in code could have disastrous consequences if the AI is used to make important decisions, such as military deployment.
If a robot harms a human who is to blame? The robot? The programmer? The manufacturer? Us?
Would you trust a walking, talking robot assistant in your home?
Should AI make decisions for us?
Legal & Privacy Issues
Legal and privacy issues regard laws that have been introduced by the UK government to protect data, systems and networks from unauthorised access. See 11.2 for explanations about important computing legislation in the UK.
Loss of Privacy & Hacking
There has been a lot of criticism in the last few years about how internet companies and governments are using personal data to invade privacy and track civilians. Facebook was involved in a scandal with using personal data for reasons that were not the original intention. In reverse, WhatsApp and Apple have been criticised for encrypting messages sent by terrorists that police have been unable to track and read.
Every week a new company seems to announce that its data has been hacked. Attackers are constantly using botnets and infected systems to crack poorly secured databases and attempting to phish individuals for usernames and passwords. In the past few years, major hacking breaches include Sony, Yahoo and TalkTalk.
Should the UK government be able to see the websites you have visited in the last year?
What should happen if a major company is hacked and bank details are stolen? Should they be fined? Pay customers? Prison?
Should WhatsApp allow authorities to access encrypted messages? What if they know a terrorist is using it to communicate?
Should the UK debate privacy laws before they go into place?
Unlawfully obtaining personal information and using it for identity theft or fraud.
Harassment and threatening others on social media or private messages; blackmail.
Cyber attacks are more common - see 3.8 for information about DOS attacks, IP spoofing, SQL injection and more.
Sharing copyrighted material such as television programmes, music and video games.
Distributing prohibited material such as drugs or weapons on the dark web.
See 11.2 for explanations about different laws that have been created to tackle online crime.
The increased popularity of the internet and the rising number of users has led to a wave of online crime, taking many different forms, including:
6.1a - Impacts of Technology:
1a. What is the digital divide? 
1b. Describe 2 examples of how the digital divide can be seen. 
2. Describe in detail 3 ways that technology has changed the way people work. 
1. Describe the different ways that the increasing use of technology negatively impacts the environment. 
1a. What is a drone? 
1b. Make a list of all of the positive impacts and the negative impacts of using drones. You should have at least 3 on each side. 
2. Describe 2 benefits of using self-driving cars and 2 negative consequences. 
3. Describe how artificial intelligence can be used for good. 
Legal & Privacy Impacts
1. A hack on a bank has occurred. Describe what you think the impacts would be on the following groups of people:
a. The customers.
b. The bank managers.
c. The general public. 
2. Describe 4 different types of online crime.