Unintended Consequences

Technologies cause second-order effects.

AKA Externalities
AKA Epiphenomena


  • Unexpected benefit: A positive unexpected benefit (also referred to as luck, serendipity or a windfall).
  • Unexpected drawback: An unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).
  • Perverse result: A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse). This is sometimes referred to as ‘backfire’.


Railroads → Time Zones

The railroads spurred the development of standardized time zones in the United States in order to coordinate the many new trains that were crisscrossing the continent. Before this technology and the complexity it entailed, time zones were less necessary.

Samuel Arbesman



Air conditioning was a most important invention for us, perhaps one of the signal inventions of history. It changed the nature of civilization by making development possible in the tropics.

Lee Kuan Yew, Founder of Singapore

Further Examples:

  • Air-Conditioning → Increased Outside Temperature
  • Washing Machine → Female Workforce
  • Birth Control Pills → Female Workforce
  • Industrialized Food → Obesity
  • Paternity Test → Legal Industry
  • One-Click Ordering → Impulse Buying
  • Corrugated Steel Box → Globalization
  • Self-driving Vehicles → ?

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