Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The computation beast awakens

More than a 100 years ago, Charles Babbage fathered the first abstract form of the computation beast into our world, in the shape of mathematics. This was the first modern day incantation of its primordial being.

. . .

Thirty years ago, you had to be able to count in hexadecimal (base 16) in order to make computers operate. Today, the everyday user has no idea these numbers provide the memory address to each and every little piece of data we use - your music, documents, programs and images.

Twenty years ago, you had to be able to use a teletype terminal to use a computer. Today we have personal computers with (sometimes) intuitive graphical interfaces, which we interacted with using a mouse or our fingers. Tomorrow we may do it by brain stimulus - already we have monkeys control robots and blind men seeing.

Ten years ago you had to know HTML in order to publish textual on the web. Today we blog, post videos, edit content and otherwise contribute with no technical knowledge beyond turning on a computer and using a web browser. Still, at the root of it all lie the hexadecimal representation of the binary, digital data that makes this all possible, from the transnational low of information to its pixelated display on your screen.

Today you have to spend years learning programming and various programming languages in order to create applications. At the root, however, programming is merely control and manipulation of information flow; tomorrow the technical threshold will be surmounted and programming will reduce to this (not less beastly) principle - complexity management through architectural and patterned structuring.

What I am saying is this: Computation is a beast of unimaginable capacity, and software its physical incarnation. Today, this beast is still in its early infancy, and we cannot predict or comprehend its mature form. Thus far, the technical threshold for participation in its development and nurture has been high enough to exclude all but the wiz and the nerd. However, technical literacy is on the rise, and with every human being a potential contributor to the most powerful tool of abstraction of human time we are in for exciting times.

Listen - you can hear it rumble...

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