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Section 12.2 Analyzing Impacts

In several assignments in this class, you will be asked to respond to one or more articles, analyzing some aspect of computing and and its positive and negative impacts on human society. Your responses will be structured according to a series of four prompts, which are described in detail below. With each prompt is a series of ideas to consider. You do not necessarily need to address each idea in your response—they are simply guides of things you should consider while answering that question. You should generally be able to answer each question in a few sentences.
  1. Quote a passage or two from the article describing the purpose of the technology in question and the concerns about it.
    • What problems was it designed to solve?
    • Who designed it? In what context?
    • In what contexts is it or was it used?
    • Even if your sources focus on an error or misuse of technology, remember that all technology exists because someone thought it would be a good idea to make it. Don’t try to describe the “intent” of a bug or get into the intent behind misuse; describe the original intent of the technology itself.
    • All computation makes use of data. What data is involved?
    • How does the technology process the data? What are the inputs and outputs? What happens in between?
    • If you are going to describe a bug or unintended problem with a technology, be sure to describe how its input, output, or computation are affected.
  2. Who uses the technology? Who benefits from it, and how do they benefit?
    • How do users of the technology benefit from it?
    • How does society as a whole benefit from the existence of this technology?
    • If you are describing a bug that has no benefit, focus on the benefit that a working system should have provided.
    • Even when technology is causing unacceptable harm, “nobody benefits” is not an adequate analysis. Think creatively about who wants the technology, even if you don’t think they should.
  3. Who is harmed by the use of the technology, or unequal access to it? How could they be harmed? Quote specific examples from the article.
    • What harm is there to the user?
    • What harm is there to people subjected to the technology?
    • What harm is there to people excluded from using the technology?
    • What harm is there to society?
    • If you are describing a bug, unintended harmful side effect, or intentional misuse of technology, this is where to get into the nature and extent of the harm.
    • Even for a technology you want everybody to accept, “nobody is harmed” is not an adequate analysis. Think creatively about consequences that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.
  4. What does the article say is being done—or might be done—to change the impacts of the technology on society? What thoughts do you have?
    • Who is calling for change? What do they want?
    • What could users of the technology do differently?
    • How could laws or company policies change to increase its benefit or decrease its harm?
    • Do you have any personal experience with the impacts of this technology or something similar?
    • How do you feel about this technology? How should its role in society change, and what steps can you see to be taken toward that change?
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