1-5 Applications and Implications of Computing

  • In this lesson, students are encouraged to think about the applications and implications of computer science on a larger scale. 
  • Students will explore and discuss how computers are used in various professions and hobbies, and how those applications affect the way people live.


Code Stars: Wizards, Rockstars, and Superheroes

YouTube Video


Why are computer scientists the "wizards", "rockstars", and "superheroes" of the future?

Computer scientists are creators and helpers. They make tools that change the way people live, work, talk, and think! Their creations can be shared quickly on a large scale, and impact people from all around the world.

Also, computer science is everywhere! The video mentioned that the majority of computer science and programming jobs are NOT in technology or government, but in agriculture, entertainment, manufacturing, and pretty much everywhere else! 

Earlier in this unit, we learned that computers are not just limited to the typical desktop and laptop computers that come to mind when we say "computer". So many things are computers, and they're used in so many different ways. 
  • What are some "unconventional" computers? Where are they used?
  • What kinds of software instructions do these computers carry out?
  • How do these computers change the way people live their lives?

At the beginning of the video, they asked students what they wanted to be when they grew up. The students wanted to be an astronaut, fashion designer, basketball player, actor, doctor, chef, artist, and mermaid. How might they use computer science?

What are your interests? What do you want to be when you grow up, and how might you use computer science?

Fashion retail, manufacturing and design, animation, extreme sports, music, and weather reporting all use computer science! 
  • Can you think of some ways they use computer science?
  • Can you think of ways other professions or hobbies use computer science?
  • How do these applications of computer science change the way people live their lives? 

Read: Computers - The general purpose machine

A computer is any machine or device that can be programmed with a set of instructions. Most computers with a CPU, such as smartphones and PCs, can be described as general purpose machines because they can be used for many different things. Software enables a computer to be a games machine, web browser, word processor and perform a wide range of functions.

Devices such as the first Sega Mega Drive (released 1990) could be described as special purpose machines as they were designed to just do one thing – play games.

Early computers
The first programmable general purpose computer, the Analytical Engine, was designed by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in 1837.

The First Programmable Computer

The first person to actually build a working, programmable computer was a German inventor, Konrad Zuse. He built the Z3 in 1941. Its program code and data were stored on punched film, and the computer was used to analyze wing flutter on aircraft during the Second World War.

The Colossus computer, 1943

Another early computer was also built at this time.The Colossus - designed and built by engineer Tommy Flowers at Bletchley Park - was made to process large amounts of data, and it enabled British cryptographers to break coded German communication messages.

Processing data manually is extremely time-consuming, and so the invention of the Colossus helped to speed up the process.

The invention of the transistor changed the design of the CPU. Over the years, CPUs have become faster and smaller - but they still retain the same basic function. CPU speeds have doubled every two years or so over the past 50 years.

Types of computers

PCs, smartphones and games consoles are typical, everyday computers but there are many other types of computer systems.

Embedded computers

Embedded computers are used in car engines, spacecraft and MP3players. They are dedicated systems that are designed for a fixed purpose. This is different to the type of system in PCs and smartphones, which use software for a range of purposes.

Wearable technology

Wearable technology describes clothing that makes use of electronics and computers.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer that costs around £20-£30. It has either 256 MB or 512 MB RAM and a 1 gHz CPU. It can run a fullLinux operating system and, if a screen, keyboard and mouse are plugged in, it will function as a desktop machine.

The Raspberry Pi is popular with 'makers' - people who want to experiment and create their own projects, such as programs and gadgets. There are free downloads and guides available online to get beginners started with the computer.

The Arduino

The Arduino is a microcontroller. This is a basic computer with less power than the Raspberry Pi, but it is useful for small-scale projects, such as creating wearable technology. It does not have an operating system. In order to be programmed, program data has to be transferred from a computer, such as a PC, to the Arduino via a USBconnection.

The Arduino is an open source, prototyping platform for electronics, using basic software and hardware. The pins on the chip allow them to be connected to switches, sensors, LEDs, or any other type of electronic component. There are many free guides for Arduino projects online.

The purpose of a computer

Computers only work by following the specific instructions they are given. This is useful when tasks need to be performed accurately, as a computer will not stray from its given instructions. When we use logical sets of sequences and calculations we are using computation. Computation means precisely following a set of instructions in a logical order to process input data and produce output data. The set of instructions is known as an algorithm.

Computers can have a variety of uses, including:
  • automation
  • robotics
  • bionics
  • data crunching
  • modeling
  • automation

Computers can be programmed to perform repetitive tasks. This has the major benefits of saving time (it is usually much quicker than inputting data manually) and reducing the risk of human error (mistakes are less likely to happen and results will be consistent). Automation enables companies to use computers to manufacture products like cars, and to organize warehouses quickly and efficiently.
Robotics Computers can also be used to control robots, which can be used in environments that are too dangerous or impractical for humans to work in. For example, robots are able to explore the planet Mars, without the risks involved in sending an astronaut into space.


Computer-generated models allow users to create simulations of complex structures or theories. These can be used to make useful predictions about the behavior of a system under different circumstances, eg testing the load-bearing capacity of bridges, analyzing how dinosaurs would have walked or forecasting weather.

Data crunching

Computer systems can collect and store vast amounts of data. Computers make it much easier to study information and look for patterns, eg Google Analytics stores data on search habits and has been used to predict flu outbreaks around the world.

Advances in robotics also have great medical benefits. Advanced prosthetics, such as replacement arms and legs, are becoming much more intuitive thanks to computer technology.

The future of computing

Computers have developed at an incredible rate in recent times, and will continue to do so throughout the 21st century.

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years or so. 
Computers have followed the trend of Moore's Law which means CPUs and memory are improving at exponential rates.

There is currently a lot of research being done into artificial intelligence (AI) - working towards making computers act in a more 'human' way. The Loebner Prize is an annual award for the computer program that can present the best imitation of a human.

Big companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple are always seeking to improve the intelligence of their products. They are all exploring how to make smartphones more intelligent through AI.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is a system used to overlay information about the world around you onto a screen. Many companies, including Sony, Google and Avegant are creating wearable computers that make use of augmented reality.

Google Glass looks like a pair of glasses and contains a miniature projector that displays information onto the lens in front of your eye. It uses voice control and contains a built-in camera that can be used to record video and take pictures.


Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on a molecular andatomic level, making things that work on the very smallest possible scale. The term can be applied to many disciplines, from molecular biology through to mechanical uses, and the nanotechnology involved is potentially very useful to society.

Applications of Computer Science

The videos show different applications of computer science to various industries and hobbies. 
As you watch these videos, think about:
  • What kinds of hardware components and software instructions do these applications require?
  • How has computer science changed the way the people live or work?

Watch: Garmin Swimming Watch
Do you play sports? Do you watch sports? How might athletes use computer science?

YouTube Video

The watch can tell time, count strokes, detect stroke type, track distance, and store, analyze, and share workout information.

Distance-tracking, stroke detection, and workout analysis all require a lot of computation. The watch receives a lot of information and has to perform calculations and make decisions to figure out the information we want as human beings and athletes. 

Some of these problems are easy for humans to solve: if you've seen a swim stroke before, you should be able to recognize it. But how does a computer understand the difference between a butterfly stroke and freestyle? These are some of the problems that computer scientists deal with, as you already know: how do we make a computer do something that's easy for humans to do?

The slogan "Stop counting laps. Let Garmin Swim do the math" sums up the impact: athletes can focus on their form and performance rather than counting numbers. Athletes can get a lot of information about their workout without worrying about it.

Watch: Adobe Illustrator Tutorial: How to Draw an Astrochimp

Does computer science have anything to do with paint brushes and canvas? Computers have become a tool that artists can use to create art. Websites and social media help artists advertise and sell their art. Watch 30 seconds of the video below to see one kind of software artists use to create art!

YouTube Video

Can you think of other ways that software or hardware has changed the art industry? 

Think about poster prints of famous works of art, buying art online, art made out of computer parts, kids getting access to famous pieces of art through the internet.

Watch: PET Scanner and Imaging

YouTube Video

Did you see computers the last time you went to the doctor's office? What were they used for?

When doctors diagnose an illness, they need to gather information. Unfortunately, some symptoms of illnesses aren't visible on the outside, so medical imaging (such as x-rays) are incredibly helpful for giving doctors information about what's happening inside a body. 

PET scanners are used to diagnose cancer, Alzheimer's, and a variety of other disorders. As you watch the video below, don't worry about how exactly the scanner is working, but think about what computer science has to do with this. The detectors collect information about where the signals are coming from, and the computer is able to use this information to make a "map" of the body. You saw a 3-D image of a body at the end of the video, with colors indicating the strength of the signal.

A computer had to take the data from each detector, which can only tell if a signal was present or absent at a certain time, and use it to make a map of the body and figure out where a tumor or brain irregularity might be. It would take a human a very long time to perform these calculations and draw the image, but a computer can do it much more quickly.

Photography and Social Media

Watch: Instagram and Photography

  • What has Instagram done to photography as an art? 

YouTube Video

  • What has Instagram done to information-sharing? 

Check Your Understanding

The definition of a computer is not limited to the typical desktop and laptop computers. The swimming watch could be a computer that required hardware and software to create the cool functions it performs. 
  • How do these applications affect how people live?