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Analysing General Paper Essay Topics: Science and Technology
In our series of A Level General Paper themes, we have already covered 5 of the 7 potential themes (Fig 1.) that will be tested during your A Level General Paper examinations. In our previous articles, we have discussed politics, media, environment, the arts, and morality/values. Today, we will be diving into a popular topic these days, Science and Technology. Given the rate at which technological advancements are taking place, much focus has been shifted to the technological industry, which is why it is important for you to have a good grasp on this theme.
Fig 1. General Paper themes taken from the SEAB syllabus
Once again, we will start off by looking at the dictionary definition of Science and Technology. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, science is “knowledge from the careful study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world. Especially by watching, measuring, and doing experiments”. Science also comprises the development of theories to describe the results of the above-listed activities. On the other hand, technology is defined as “the study and knowledge of the practical, especially industrial, use of scientific discoveries”. Science and Technology often go hand in hand, with science requiring technology to facilitate research, and technology requiring science to turn ideas into theories. With new information being available every minute, there have been notable implications on society, both positive and negative.
Implications of Science and Technology
Remember that during your A Level General Paper, you need to argue from a myriad of perspectives and have a nuanced answer.
From an individual’s point of view, Science and Technology can either make everyday life more convenient or could ironically complicate things. The development of Science and Technology like smart devices, Bluetooth earpieces, and mRNA vaccines have undoubtedly affected our everyday lives, be it in a positive or negative way. With smart devices like smartphones, smart computers, smartwatches, etc., people are able to access the world at the tip of their fingers. In the past, even when phones existed, they were solely for the purpose of contacting others, but today, so much information is stored in a tiny rectangle. On smartphones, users can access the internet, watch movies, edit documents and even play games. With the development of smartwatches, perhaps one day we might not even need a phone anymore. Many smartwatches like the “Apple watch” enable users to text and call others and even have a built-in capability to detect a hard fall and call for help.
The development of mRNA vaccines is considered to be one of the top technological breakthroughs of 2021. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, many people were in a state of shock, with societies erupting into chaos due to the sudden fear of getting the virus. Infection rates were high and the daily lives of civilians were disrupted. Hospital intensive care units (ICUs) were overwhelmed and death tolls were skyrocketing. Many countries also saw their economies plunging, especially with the implementation of “lockdowns”. In desperation to provide relief in such a trying time, several scientists at BioTech companies then began experimenting on the idea of mRNA vaccines. mRNA stands for messenger RNA, which is a series of codons coding for certain proteins in the body. With the help of technology, coupled with the scientific theory of genomics and infectious diseases, scientists developed mRNA vaccines. You may also know these vaccines better as “Pfizer” and “Moderna”. Since they are 71% effective in preventing transmission, the introduction of these mRNA vaccines has not only slowed down the transmission rate of the coronavirus but has also resulted in milder symptoms in the case of any coronavirus infection. Such improvements have slowly enabled societies to transition into a new normal that reflects some semblance of life before the virus hit.
Due to the addictive nature of technology, one can easily get hooked on certain games or social media platforms. Marketers and developers have built these platforms to facilitate mindless scrolling; these platforms have a huge addictive potential. Like all other addictions, addiction to technology can result in detrimental effects like depression, anxiety, and social isolation. The addicted individual will often spend a huge amount of time holed up in virtual reality, without any human interaction. An addiction to technology will inevitably drive a wedge between the addicted individual and their family or friends too. This might result in strained relationships as the addicted individual and their loved ones engage in heated arguments or drift apart.
On a societal level, the effects of Science and Technology have an ever greater magnitude. With the development of capital goods like machinery that enables automation or uses Artificial Intelligence (AI), the country can face expanded economic growth. This is because companies will be able to increase efficiency and productivity, whilst cutting down on manpower. When input remains the same and output increases, the country will experience potential economic growth, and the general gross domestic product (GDP) of the country will rise as well.
On the flip side, technological advancements may lead to unemployment for certain individuals, and high unemployment rates will significantly lower the material, as well as non-material standard of living. With no steady flow of income, consumers have lesser purchasing power, and thus, cannot enjoy goods and services at the same levels prior to unemployment. The stress of putting food on the table whilst unemployed will also cause stress levels to rise, resulting in the consumer’s non-material wellbeing taking a dip as well.
Whilst Science and Technology have helped to better the lives of many people, they are definitely not without faults. Technological advancements in automation have replaced many physical labourers, especially in the service and/or manufacturing industry. According to the Straits Times, 20 million jobs in the manufacturing industry could be taken over by machines by 2030! These days, it is also not an uncommon sight to see grocery stores, cafes, or even shopping malls having automated checkouts or robots serving customers. Examples include ‘Ella’, the fully automated coffee-making machine (Fig. 2).
Fig 2. Fully automated coffee machine ‘Ella’
Whilst this helps to save on manpower and costs for the company, service staff like cashiers are outed. Many sunrise industries also require specific technical skills like coding or at least basic technological knowledge. More often than not, labourers do not possess these specific skill sets, making it hard for them to look for new jobs in these up-and-coming companies, resulting in their unemployment. With the seemingly lightning-fast transition to the digital age, many individuals belonging to the older generation are also struggling to keep up. In Singapore, a handful of eateries only accept cashless payment, which requires one to set up credit or debit cards and use internet banking services like “Paynow” and “PayLah!”. Many seniors are unable to make a smooth transition into the digital age due to a difficulty in understanding the latest technology, and the fear of damaging these expensive devices or being scammed. According to research, 24% of seniors were afraid to use new technological devices, and out of this 24%, 43.4% fear damaging the devices or falling prey to malware.
As technology and science become more advanced, researchers are also delving into the quixotic theory of microchipping. Microchipping refers to implanting a chip inside a human or animal, with the chip-making transactions and identification possible. However, whilst microchipping could lead to a new digital era of convenience and medicine, microchip implants could cross ethical boundaries. Firstly, let’s talk about the experimental process of microchipping. In order to ensure that there will not be any adverse human reaction to microchipping, many scientists and researchers turn to the solution of animal testing, which on its own has been a century-old ethical debate. Many are disgusted with the idea of these animals being used as laboratory test subjects, stepping up to fight for the rights of these animals, and there have been many non-governmental organisations like The Human Society and PETA stepping up as well. PETA often posts about the atrocities of animal testing on their Instagram page (Fig 3.); they use their social media platform to reach out to people, as well as publicly condemn such practices. You can check out their Instagram here.
Fig 3. Example of PETA’s posts against animal testing
Secondly, microchipping of human beings may lead to an excessive invasion of privacy. Imagine a world where all companies will know the location of their staff all the time, with or without their given permission… That's not a world we want to live in!
TraceTogether plays on the function of Bluetooth technology that enables devices to capture proximity data for the Ministry Of Health (MOH) to do “contact tracing”. “Contact tracing” is a practice where the ministry will use said proximity data to identify close contacts of an individual affected with the coronavirus and quarantine these contacts to curb the spread of the virus. However, shortly after the implementation of this system, there was outrage amongst citizens due to privacy concerns. While the initial stance was that all data collected from TraceTogether would strictly be used for contact tracing only, Minister of Home Affairs (MHA) Desmond Tan later mentioned that the data could also be used for “the purpose of criminal investigation”. Following this, TraceTogether’s site had its privacy statement changed to state that the “Criminal Procedure Code applies to all data under Singapore’s jurisdiction”. This sparked quite a big outrage amongst citizens; 80% of those living in Singapore use the system. Users felt that their privacy was compromised with their whereabouts being tracked round the clock.
As we have mentioned earlier in this article, Science and Technology have made microchipping possible. As information and theories become more profound, scientists have started to explore the implantation of chips in the brain. Neuralink, a company founded by Elon Musk in 2016, has plans to implant microchips in the brain in order to treat neural disorders. Whilst this may prove a new age of medicine, the road to success is a long one filled with much experimentation, unfortunately, carried out on monkeys. Throughout the experimental process, 8 monkeys have died, which brings us back to the point of ethical concerns. Technology may have the ability to better the lives of the people (eventually), but at what cost?
China’s face recognition technology
The rise of technology in recent years has enabled homegrown Chinese company “Xiaomi” to develop facial recognition technology. With China’s vast network of surveillance cameras across the country, this facial recognition system logs almost every single citizen going about their daily lives. A database leak in 2019 revealed that China had more than 6.8 million records daily, reflecting the draconian extent to which China monitors its citizens. It is no secret that the Chinese government has also been targeting the Uyghur minority group, being accused of genocide of these people. China has also been accused of using this facial recognition technology to identify the Uyghurs, singling them out for detention and mistreatment.
Sample of a Science and Technology question
“We live in a world starved of privacy. Comment.” (ACJC Common Exam 2019)
Q: Absolute question
D: Whether or not we can enjoy privacy in our world
K: “world”, “starved”, “privacy”
With the rise in technology and the state’s desperate attempt to remain in power, it is undeniable that the world we live in today is starved of privacy. In recent years, reliance on technology has been increasing, with societies seeing newer and more intriguing finds every day. Whilst these developments might have brought about a new era of convenience to the people, it has also resulted in a plethora of privacy concerns. It is no secret that every government wants to remain in power, and a seemingly effective way to do so is by keeping the citizens under control by monitoring their every move. In recent years, China’s homegrown company “Xiaomi”, has developed facial recognition technology. This, coupled with the vast network of surveillance cameras across the country, China has logged over 6.8 million actions of its people daily in 2019. With China’s draconic monitoring of her citizens without given consent, it appears that the Chinese live in a society starved of privacy. China is but one example in the backdrop of a myriad of countries that are also adopting this method of ruling, and as such, we live in a world starved of privacy.
Here at the top A Level General Paper Tuition Centre in Singapore, Zenith has compiled a few examples that will help in your essay. However, technology advances at such a rapid rate, and new scientific discoveries are born every day. This article is just the tip of the iceberg! If you would like to know more about Science and Technology, don’t worry because Zenith has your back! The Zenith experience comprises succinct notes done up personally by our capable tutors, so you can expect fresh sets of notes and practices weekly to boost your content and skills! Our tutors also understand that the A Level experience can be extremely tiring, which is why we organise monthly welfare programmes for our students and have a pantry brimming with goodies just for them (Fig 4.)! Zenith also boasts a high distinction rate of 66% across all subjects. Sign up for a free trial today!
Fig 4. The January edition for our monthly welfare program