How do Human Inventions Impede Society’s Progress?

How Do Human Inventions Impede Society's Progress?

Human Inventions Impeding Society’s Growth | Daily Writeup | Opinions

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In the tapestry of human history, inventions stand as vibrant threads woven through the fabric of progress and transformation. From the invention of the printing press to medical breakthroughs, human inventions have become the cornerstone of advancement. Yet it is a striking paradox that some of the very inventions that promised to propel society forward have had the unforeseen impact of moving it backwards. From the Industrial Revolution to nuclear weapons, from social media to environmental challenges, the progress of society is impeded in multiple ways, leading to economic, political, social and environmental complexities. At the social level, social divisions are enhanced, and health concerns are heightened through breakthroughs in Artificial intelligence and dangerous chemicals like bisphenol, respectively. Moreover, various economic challenges, such as distorted livelihoods, large companies’ aggravated monopolies, and low human capital development, result from some human inventions. Similarly, at political and environmental levels, human inventions have moved society backwards by obstructing civil liberties, degrading the environment and devastating infrastructure. However, some people argue that human inventions have assisted society in moving ahead and making advancements. For them, innovations, like the Industrial Revolution, have helped society generate more employment opportunities and advance women’s labour participation. Additionally, computers and the internet have made the world a global village, promoting the easy transfer of ideas, services and goods. Nonetheless, the damages caused by such inventions outweigh the benefits they provide. For instance, industrialization and globalization have increased the exploitation of developing countries and their labour. Similarly, the internet has made the right to privacy much more difficult than ever before. Thus, there is a need to adopt human-centric approaches and focus on morality principles to counter the negative implications of human innovations on society’s progress. This article examines instances when human ingenuity has inadvertently hindered the very progress it sought to achieve, moving societies backwards.

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Before moving ahead, it is essential to take an overview of the human inventions that are moving societies backwards. A society moves backwards when it succumbs to a perfect storm of interrelated challenges, including pervasive social inequalities, economic decline, political instability, and environmental degradation. These factors destroy the integration of society and give mental dither to its masses. Moreover, social inequalities, such as disparities in wealth, education, and access to healthcare, create a divided society where opportunities are not distributed equitably, eroding the social fabric. Similarly, economic decline, marked by stagnation, recession, or unequal wealth distribution, can result in reduced living standards, increased poverty, and limited economic prospects for its citizens. Likewise, political instability, characterized by corruption, lack of accountability, or authoritarianism, weakens the rule of law and the foundations of a just and democratic society. Simultaneously, environmental degradation, including pollution, deforestation, and climate change, threatens the planet’s ecosystems and jeopardizes the well-being of future generations. Hence, all of these factors contribute to a society’s backwardness. Franklin D. Roosevelt explains this social distortion: 

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Moving forward, several human inventions, such as social media, weapons of mass destruction, automobiles, and plastic, have left societies grappling with unintended consequences that hinder progress. Social media, while revolutionizing communication, has also facilitated the spread of misinformation, cyberbullying, and political polarization, as evidenced by the report from the Pew Research Center, which found that 64% of Americans believe fake news has caused significant scepticism about current events. Meanwhile, weapons of mass destruction, intended for deterrence, continue to pose an existential threat to global peace and stability. To the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report, “Investment in weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation raises concerns about international security.” Although transformative for transportation, the widespread adoption of automobiles has given rise to issues like traffic congestion and air pollution, negatively impacting the environment and public health. Similarly, the proliferation of plastic, despite its convenience, has resulted in severe ecological pollution, particularly in the oceans, constituting the global crisis that needs immediate attention. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership report, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, showing the deplorable condition of society.

Looking at how human inventions can significantly impede a society’s progress on the social level, they manifest in the following ways. First, the rise of social media and its algorithm-driven content recommendation systems have revolutionized how we consume information. While it can potentially connect people from all walks of life, it also reinforces the so-called “Filter bubble” or “Echo chamber” effect. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become an echo chamber for users, with algorithms designed to feed them content that aligns with their existing beliefs, fostering confirmation bias and further deepening ideological divisions. This phenomenon results in the polarization of society, reducing opportunities for constructive dialogue and compromising social cohesion. As a result, these digital tools, designed for connectivity, inadvertently contribute to social instability by amplifying divisions rather than fostering a sense of shared understanding and unity. It brings to mind the saying by Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” underscoring the perils of intensified social divisions. Second, inventions related to the production and widespread use of synthetic materials, like plastics, often introduce harmful chemicals. For instance, bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastic products, has been linked to adverse health effects, particularly during pregnancy. Studies have shown that BPA exposure can harm fetal development, leading to heightened health concerns. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to these risks. The unintended consequences of such inventions exacerbate health issues and compromise the well-being of society’s most vulnerable members. As Rachel Carson emphasized in her influential book “Silent Spring,” “The more we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Likewise, in agriculture, human inventions like synthetic pesticides have played a pivotal role in protecting crops from pests and diseases. However, these innovations have also led to developing pesticide-resistant pests, rendering some chemicals ineffective. This has decreased the overall capacity of agriculture to provide a stable food supply and has threatened global food security. As Albert Einstein once stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In this context, the argument underscores the need to reevaluate the methods and inventions related to agriculture and food production that have led to the challenges they face.

Similarly, human inventions impede progress at the economic level as well. Such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies not only transform the labour market but also raise concerns about job displacement. The McKinsey study (2016 – 2030) estimates that AI could displace ~ 15% of workers, equivalent to around 400M people worldwide. Moreover, the dominance of major corporations, including tech giants, like Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, has been facilitated by their technological superiority and the competitive advantages they’ve gained through innovative inventions. While these companies have contributed to substantial economic growth, they have also led to reduced economic diversity and stifled innovation. Smaller companies often struggle to compete with these tech giants, leading to market concentration and limiting the ability of smaller enterprises to thrive, which not only narrows economic opportunities but also hinders innovation, as small businesses are often hubs of creativity and novel ideas. As Joseph Schumpeter, the economist known for his work on innovation, said, “The problem that is usually being visualized is how capitalism administers existing structures, whereas the relevant problem is how it creates and destroys them.” Besides, medical science advancements have led to high-cost medical therapies, such as gene therapies, that offer promising treatments for various conditions. However, these therapies create economic challenges by driving up healthcare costs. The costs associated with such groundbreaking medical technologies strain healthcare budgets and present challenges for patients and healthcare systems. Last but not least, a society’s focus on education and healthcare significantly impacts its human capital development, which is vital for economic growth. In some cases, countries prioritize defence capabilities, often through investments in weapons of mass destruction, at the expense of education and healthcare. A case study of Pakistan highlights that the health budget accounts for only 0.05% of the GDP, while the defence budget constitutes 1.7%. Thus, all the facts and arguments emphasize societies’ backwardness at the economic level as a result of human inventions. 

Besides, inventions also negatively impact society’s progress at the political level. For instance, governments, in their efforts to enhance security, sometimes engage in unnecessary and invasive surveillance practices that erode the fundamental rights of their citizens. The “Freedom in the World 2021 Report” underscores the global decline in free countries from 89 to 82 between 2005 and 2020, highlighting the impact of such surveillance measures on political freedom. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Further, inventions related to military equipment, particularly in conflicts and crises, can cause the devastation of cities and vital infrastructure. Recent conflicts, such as the Palestinian crisis, illustrate the role of advanced military technology in causing destruction and human suffering. Modern weaponry can have a disproportionate and devastating impact on civilian populations and critical infrastructure, hindering political stability and reconstruction efforts. As former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” spotlighting the maxim how do human inventions impede society’s progress.

Likewise, human inventions also have significant implications for society’s progress at the environmental level, contributing to various challenges, particularly ecological degradation. The industrial, manufacturing, and energy sectors often rely on technologies and practices that contribute to environmental degradation. For example, coal-fired power plants are significant sources of dangerous mercury emissions, which threaten human health and ecosystems. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report reveals that coal-fired power plants in the United States generate approximately 35% of these emissions. Such environmental degradation has thus far-reaching consequences, including the loss of biodiversity, adverse health effects, and the exacerbation of climate change.

However, addressing the negative impacts of human inventions that move societies backwards requires a pragmatic approach. First, to advance societal progress, it is crucial to encourage the development and adoption of ethical innovations, including wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles, offering sustainable alternatives and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Second, to ensure the morality of inventions, businesses and industries should establish robust codes of conduct and ethical guidelines. Scrutinizing the moral implications of innovations, such as the development of pharmaceuticals like the hypothetical “ABC drug,” is essential. Third, embracing organic and environmentally friendly chemical substances, like sodium bicarbonate, acetic acid, and hydrogen peroxide, offering greener alternatives and reducing harm to the environment and human health in manufacturing processes and everyday products is pivotal. Fourth, advanced curriculum development should prioritize digital literacy, helping individuals critically assess information, understand technology’s ethical implications, and adapt to the changing world. As Nelson Mandela emphasized, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Digital literacy empowers humans to make informed decisions and contribute to societal progress. Last but not least, international cooperation is crucial to addressing the misuse of military and defence technologies in certain countries. Boycotting and imposing sanctions can be practical tools to discourage irresponsible behaviour. As Franklin D. Roosevelt noted, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” Hence, tackling the negative impacts of human inventions that move societies backwards requires a combination of ethical innovation, business responsibility, environmentally friendly practices, education, and international cooperation.

Some argue that human inventions propel societies forward by generating employment opportunities, as exemplified by the impact of the Industrial Revolution on Singapore from 1961 to 1968, where over 50,000 new jobs were created across the economy. Furthermore, innovations advance women’s labour participation, with exports and imports from the developed world contributing to higher female employment, as noted in the Journal of International Trade & Economic Development. Nevertheless, the detriments of these inventions often surpass the advantages they offer society. These adverse consequences include labour exploitation in developing countries due to the negative impacts of industrialization and infringements on the right to privacy, as evidenced by the hacking of Twitter in July 2022, which exposed 200 million user email addresses on the dark web. This highlights the ethical and societal challenges posed by technological progress.

Critically, the notion that human inventions move societies backwards can be seen as a pessimistic perspective. While innovations drive economic growth and create employment opportunities, they also raise ethical, environmental, and social concerns. Moreover, the negative consequences, such as exploitation and privacy infringements, cannot be dismissed. Hence, a balanced approach that leverages technology for the greater good while addressing its ethical implications is essential.

In conclusion, the relationship between human inventions and societal progress is a complex interplay of advancements and challenges. While innovations have the potential to generate economic growth and foster positive changes, it is crucial to acknowledge that particular inventions, such as automobiles, weapons of mass destruction, and single-use plastics, can have adverse impacts on social, economic, or cultural aspects of society, impeding its development. Therefore, the path to progress lies in a balanced and responsible approach that harnesses technological advancements for the greater good while actively addressing their negative repercussions. Hence, the future of societal advancement hinges on our ability to navigate this intricate landscape with wisdom and foresight. As Albert Einstein said,

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

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