Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature
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Computing and Nature

November 14th, 2014 | Posted by Greg Lyons in Uncategorized

I found Nadja Sayej’s “Programming Computers with Dirt” article fascinating. As a programmer myself, I was intrigued at the possibilities of harnessing the Earth’s natural resources for operating a computer. Reading the interview with Martin Howse, the artist behind Earthboot, brought my thoughts back to our earlier Jean-Francois Blanchette reading, “A Material History of Bits.” Blanchette’s paper reinforced the physical grounding that lies beneath all computing – the fact that information must be stored in bits as physical on-off switches somewhere on some tiny chip. Assuming the computing industry continues its rapid growth, what will happen when we run out of resources to make these chips and store this information? Our Earth has a limited supply of silicon to make the integrated circuits that these microchips need, and there is limited physical space on Earth to host computer clusters. We have enough concern for overpopulation of humans, let alone overpopulation of information!

Projects like Earthboot suggest natural solutions for more efficient information storage. Earthboot uses naturally-occurring electricity for booting up a computer, and perhaps this linkage between computers and natural Earth phenomena could prove promising (and more renewable than current materials used). Scientists at Harvard have already made groundbreaking progress in using DNA as a sort of digital storage device, fitting approximately 700 terabytes of data in a single gram of DNA (Anthony). In the near future, it could be commonplace to see large amounts of data encoded within strands of DNA, which would bring new meaning to the idea of information being alive.

It is easy to get caught up in the allure of a new technological era, and to consume massive amounts of resources in the process of development. However, as a society we have a responsibility to find long-term sustainability for our technological dependencies. Experimental projects like Earthboot provide a fascinating glimpse into future linkages between nature and computers.

 

Sources:

Anthony, Sebastian. “Harvard Cracks DNA Storage, Crams 700 Terabytes of Data into a Single Gram.” ExtremeTech. ExtremeTech, 17 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/134672-harvard-cracks-dna-storage-crams-700-terabytes-of-data-into-a-single-gram>.

Blanchette, Jean-Francois. “A Material History of Bits.” Web. 10 Oct. 2014. http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/blanchette/papers/materiality.pdf

Sayej, Nadia. “Programming Computers with Dirt: Earthboot Powers PCs with Geological Energy.” Motherboard. VICE, 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/blog/programming-computers-with-dirt-earthboot-powers-pcs-with-geological-energy>.

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