The slab and the permacomputer

# · ✸ 79 · 💬 24 · one month ago · society.robinsloan.com · akkartik
The aston­ish­ment of the Colab note­book is that it comes with a powerful com­puter attached, instantly, for free! You can buy a subscription to make that com­puter even more pow­er­ful, which I do, happily. I think these are glimpses of an accel­er­at­ing refor­mu­la­tion of "Com­puters"-the indi­vid­ual machines like my laptop, or your phone, or the server whirring in the cor­ner of my office - into "Com­pute", a seam­less slab of digital capabil­ity. That's the twist, of course: cloud func­tions and Colab note­books and Ethereum con­tracts DO run on "Com­puters", vast armadas of indi­vid­ual machines tak­ing up real phys­i­cal space, vent­ing real hot air. First, if some­body offers you a seam­less slab of com­pute and says, here, take a bite: sure, go for it. At the same time, think fur­ther and more point­edly ahead. There's an idea sim­mer­ing out there, still fringe, coaxed for­ward by a net­work of artists and hobbyists: it's called "Permacom­put­ing" and it asks the question: what would com­puters look like if they were really engi­neered to last, on seri­ous time scales? The whole stack, from the hard­ware to the boot loader to the OS to the application, would be some­thing that a per­son could hold in their head. Basically every com­puter used to be like that, up until the 1980s or so; but permacom­put­ing doesn't mean we have to go backwards. Pow­er­ful forces are push­ing com­put­ing toward vast, brit­tle sys­tems that devour energy and are incom­pre­hen­si­ble even to their own makers; I should know, because I am a small con­stituent part of these forces.
The slab and the permacomputer



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