“Why is computer science important?”
It might seem like a simple question, but there’s a lot that goes into answering it. You might start by focusing on the benefits it could bring you personally. You might talk about how computer science-related jobs are appealing in their versatility, earning potential and demand. You might hear about all of the things we use on a daily basis today that were only created because of computer science.
But what you don’t often hear about as often is the altruistic side of computer science and the work professionals in this field do to make the world a better place.
If you’re looking to leverage your love of technology to make a difference, then rest assured. Computer science is an incredible career choice for someone who wants to change the world.
“Societies will die if they don't continue to innovate,” says Werner Krebs, CEO of Acculation. Krebs says technologies are neither good nor evil on their own, but, in the right hands, can become powerful benefits to society. “We need bright and ethical people to understand our best and most powerful technologies to ensure they are used for good.”
If you want some concrete examples of just how much computer science benefits society, you came to the right place. We enlisted tech professionals to share with us how their daily work helps people and plays a vital role in their communities.
Computer science benefits society by …
1. Directly meeting needs
“Since my first day in computer science, I've been trying to have a positive impact on society,” says Thibault Rihet, software engineer at Trialog. Rihet explains that computer scientists can easily get into direct applications that address societal issues like poverty, unemployment, climate change and more.
Rihet explains that France is utilizing startups by assigning teams to create solutions when a public agent identifies a problem. Then the solutions go live nationally. This approach allows computer scientists and other technology professionals to jump in and meet needs as they arise in their communities.
Sites like DataKind, Taproot and Code Alliance can be excellent resources for computer scientists who want to put their skills to work for global issues, according to Rihet. These platforms allow a wide array of tech professionals to create, support and execute projects that change lives.
There are also indirect benefits from the tools computer scientists build, Rihet points out. Consider charities that are now able to streamline their donations, or crowdfunded campaigns that can gather a following and financial backing.
2. Empowering people who are often overlooked
“An amazing benefit of software is that it can be freely distributed to everyone, thanks to open-source contributors,” Rihet says. “This fact truly empowers people.” When tools to build revenue and solve business problems are available to everyone—it can level the playing field.
For example, finding clients can be an expensive endeavor. If you are a service provider coming to your business without a ton of extra cash, it can be hard to stay afloat. Samantha Hugo, CEO of Hugomatica, says computer science can make a huge difference here.
“For example, beauticians often do not determine their own work hours or find their own clients because they don't know how.” Seeing this need, Hugo’s company created an app that allows beauticians to recruit their own clients and set their own schedules. “As a women-owned company, we try to find apps that are needed and that will help people in areas that have been overlooked by most coders.”
3. Paving the way for a more equitable world
Computer science can really help level the playing field in terms of inexpensive solutions. But Hugo also points out that it can be an equalizer in other ways. Though technology as an industry has an underrepresentation of women and racial minorities, Hugo sees computer science as a tool for societal rebalance when it comes to gender identity, background, ethnicity and beyond. Code is code—and if you’ve created something genuinely useful, your background isn’t going to hold you back.
“The App Store has the same requirements for all developers,” she points out. Hugo says it is a positive step for society that computers are blind to everything but the code.
4. Accelerating healthcare progress
Healthcare tends to be a pretty high priority when you consider how to improve people’s lives.
One of the most exciting facets of computer science is its power to improve and accelerate every other field. “Data science and artificial intelligence (AI) as subsets of computer science allow people and organizations to accelerate and ‘prepackage thought.’ In this way, computer science and artificial intelligence can make any other discipline many, many times better.”
Genomics and personalized medicine are an excellent example of how computer science-driven technologies are accelerating healthcare progress. The genome sequencing process that powers this frontier of medicine used to cost tens of millions of dollars to complete, but machine-learning techniques and improved computing power have dropped costs substantially.
5. Furthering education
Can you imagine modern education without computer software or the internet? Whether you’re taking a class online, researching for a paper or sharing work via the cloud, computer science pros have helped make this possible.
E-learning platforms and applications give students new tools to problem-solve and study, which has changed the academic world. The ability to take classes online is also a huge benefit for the world—as it creates access to education for students whose locations, abilities or finances were a barrier.
6. Expanding communication
“The biggest contribution computer science has made is in the field of communication,” says Manonit Nand, teacher and system administrator at the Mayoor School. “Computer Science has made the whole world a very small place—available at your fingertips now.”
Nand mentions social media, video calling and chatting apps—even the applications that allow you to share documents and photos with someone else long-distance. These capacities have completely revolutionized the workforce.
7. Predicting and avoiding catastrophes
Computer science is scaling—and scaling very fast for that matter, according to Nand. Applying computer science to prediction can have a huge impact on the world. “We are predicting human behavior; we are predicting climates, seasons, ocean currents, etc.” Nand says.
With these tools, we can predict everything from an incoming tsunami to the outbreak pattern of a pathogen. In that way, some of the most life-saving work that happens in our world relies on computer scientists. Computer science is even in action when predicting the trajectory of dangerous comets near our planet.
8. Positively impacting every area of society
Though it’s not always hands-on, almost every aspect of society—from family-owned businesses needing digital protection to homeless shelters needing a way to streamline their volunteer base—relies on the innovations spurred by computer science professionals.
“Computer science is a noble profession without which today’s world would come to a complete halt,” Nand says. When it comes to finding a career that allows you to positively benefit the world around you, look no further than computer science!
How will you make a difference?
There’s no denying it—the reach of computer science is extensive. And we’re only just scratching the surface with what good can come from it!
Now that you know the many ways computer science benefits our society, you might be wondering about the roles in which you’d put a Computer Science education to use. Check out our article, “What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?” to learn more.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018.