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Social Implications of Computing

Today’s Goals:

(Social Implications of Computing)

• We will try to understand the impact of computing on:
– Business
– Work
– Living
– Health
– Education

40.1 Introduction

• It should be clear to you that - for better or worse - the future of computing and the future of
humankind are highly interdependent
• Computers have solved many problems for the humankind but have created a few tricky ones as
• Today we will discuss both, but first …
• Why is it important to discuss the social implication of computing?

Why should we, as computing professionals, be interested in studying the social implications of our creations?

• Computing technology has changed our way of life like no other technology
• We need to study how it has done it to highlight the mistakes and success stories of the past
• We need to do it so that we can learn from them and select our future direction accordingly

Let’s Start with the Dilemma of Computing

• Computers keep on becoming more and more powerful and gaining more and more autonomy
• They are being equipped with fail-safe and self-healing technologies
• Are we heading towards a future where the role of the masters and the slaves will be switched?
• Should we slow down or even reverse some of the technology advances to avoid that dark

40.2 Powerful Global Corporations

• Internet-based communication is allowing business entities to coordinate the activities of their
globally-spread units with greater accuracy
• The knowledge gained by one unit becomes available to all others very quickly
• All this has made these business entities very powerful, even more powerful than many nationstates

40.3 The Network Organization

• The network paradigm (all connected to many others) is becoming the preferred organizational
structure of more and more organizations as time goes by
• This new organization is replacing the old-style layered, tree-structured organizational model
• The organizations are learning that business can be done in a more effective manner if emphasis is
placed upon cooperation, shared responsibility and networking:
– Within the organization
– And also with their customers and suppliers
The structure of the networked organization is flexible (although, at times a bit chaotic!), and changes
according to the demand of the times
• It shares knowledge and decentralizes the control of the operation so that network works
effectively to meet the business goals of the organization
• The workers :
– Can spend more time doing creative work as they have immediate access to all of the required info
through various computer-based technologies
– Have a sense of ownership in the organization

While old professions are being eliminated …

• Typists
• Bank tellers
• Telephone operators

Number of Temporary Workers is on the Rise

• Even technical professionals of high-quality must now define themselves as temporary consultants,
able to move from project to project within in an organization as well as among different
• In the old days, loyalty was important, now professionalism and ability to perform are the watch
• The focus now in many computer-centric organizations is not belonging to the organization, but on
professional competency and quality of work

Businesses Monitoring Their Employees

• Systems are available that monitor almost every key stroke that an employee makes on a computer
• Systems are available that read and censor all incoming and outgoing eMail
• It is quite straight forward to monitor where you surf, and when

40.4 Working from Home

• Computing has made it possible for some to avoid going the office for their work
• They can do their work from home and communicate their ideas, questions, answers to their
colleagues through the Internet
• This gives them more time to spend with their families due to the time they save on commuting to
their place of work

Working from Home: Disadvantages

• Contact with the colleagues and the quality of communication is reduced, which may result in a
poorer quality of work
• Lack of interaction may also result in slower professional growth
• Family life may suffer as well, as some never turn off, and keep on working through out the day,
evening and night!

40.5 From Mass- to Personalized-Marketing

• In the old days demographical data was analyzed and mass-marketing campaigns were launched to
influence a reasonable portion of the population
• The Web has changed marketing forever, redirecting it from a mass focus to a single-person focus
• Our Web surfing data are captured. We are asked questions about our lifestyle in return of
randomly awarded prizes
• All the collected data is then analyzed to determine patterns in our behavior, and individualized
offers for services and goods are displayed in front of us on the Web or eMail

40.6 The Political Process

• We no longer need to gather the public’s opinion through expensive referenda or public meetings
• Through computer discussion forums, newsgroups and mailing-lists, public and politicians may
engage in a free, open exchange of ideas without leaving the comfort of their not-so-comfortable
and very comfortable homes, respectively

Distances Have Contracted

• Because of the ever-decreasing costs of verbal, text, video communications, it is becoming easier
to stay in touch of anyone, regardless of their physical location
• This has had a profound effect on small businesses, especially in developing countries like Pakistan
• It has also made it possible for families and friends to become closer in spite of the physical
distance between them

Distances Are Increasing

• Television was bad enough; Video games and the Web has made the situation even worse
• Families are spending less & less time together in spite of the physical closeness. This may have a
very detrimental effect on the emotional well-being of the children, … and parents
• Solitude is the order of the day as many children & adults spend their free time surfing, chatting,
playing computer games, instead of spending it on interacting with friends or family

Virtual Communities

• Interest-based, instead of geography-based communities
• Ex: Ta’suv’voof, tennis, telepathy, cancer
• Members with common interest share ideas, ask questions, post answers and make announcements
through mailing-lists, news groups or message boards
• These communities are definitely very different from traditional ones
• There are generally no bars on membership based on gender, race or religion
• However, they may lack the respect for the individual and civility that are the norm within
conventional, geography-based communities

A Society Under Surveillance

• While surfing, we are being watched, constantly
• Our every click is recorded and analyzed to extract patterns and behaviors
• Those patterns are then used to persuade us to do things that those Web sites want us to do
• Webcams are becoming common. Providing a cheap way for parents to watch their children's
every move

The Changing Face of Education

• Distance learning has received a boost due to the low-price of Internet communication and the
availability of Web-based interactive content
• It has also become possible for students to interact in real-time with other students as well as
teachers located a long distance from them
• Physical location is less of a hindrance now
• Students enrolled in distance-education programs have more control over what they want to learn,
how they want to learn, and when
• The lack of face-to-face interaction and immediate to-and-fro questions and answers may,
however, reduce the amount of knowledge that can be transferred from the teacher to the student
• In spite of that problem, computer-based distance education may be the only source of high-quality
education for many, especially those in remote locations
• The fact, however, remains that the best mode of education is the conventional one, which has
become more effective with the augmentation of computer-based learning aids

Info Gathering

• We are turning more and more towards online resources of info
• The info that just a few years back involved effort and time to pull together before it could be used
is now literally a few key strokes away
• The time and effort spent on gathering info can now be spent on using it
• This capability has made the computer an active (and integral) part of our creative process


• How can we place a doctor specializing in, for example, skin-related diseases or neurology in every
district’s hospital?
• We cannot! What then? Ignore all those not residing in big cities?
• Solution: Internet-based telemedicine
• An audio/video/text connection combined with a few remote medical instruments and a trained
assistant can enable a remote doctor to examine and prescribe medicine to a patient far, far away

Is Progress Necessary?

• Progress is being made every day in the field of computing. The question that we need to ask is:
“Are we going in the right direction?”
• Is it OK to make available all sorts of info to everyone? Does everyone needs to know how to
build an H-bomb?
• Is it OK to keep on investing in surveillance technologies? Do personal privacy have no place in
our technologically advanced future?
• Is it OK to automate everything that we lay our eyes on? Or certain things (e.g. caring for an
infant) should remain with us old-fashioned human beings


• Your answers to the questions that I just raised may differ from mine, and I respect your opinion.
All I say is, yes, progress is inventible, however, you – the creators of my future – should be a bit
thoughtful about what you do
I command you to “go and invent the future,” it is your duty and you may not desist from it, but, please,
do think about the social implications and consequences of what you are doing before actually doing it

Today’s Lecture:

(Social Implications of Computing)

We discussed the impact of computing on:
– Business
– Work
– Living
– Health
– Education

Next Lecture’ Goals:

(The Computing Profession )

• Roles & responsibilities of a modern computer professionals
• The ethical issues facing the computing profession

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