A Tale of Two Computers

A tweetstorm summary of Session 4 of the Breaking Smart workshop, based on essays 14-20.


1/ Douglas Adams’ “Life, the Universe and Everything” non-question can be understood as a satirical view of  human political processes.

2/ It is equivalent to “Inequality, Surveillance and Everything” (2015), and “Cold War, Globalization and Everything” (1970s).

3/ When we try to frame big issues as questions with determinate answers that lead to clear pastoralist goals, we miss the real action.

4/ The real action is increasing system potential, like Douglas Adams’ aliens leveling up from Deep Thought supercomputer to “Earth”.

5/ The result is a change in how we solve all problems, not in what problems we take on. This is the big story of our era: the major level-up.

6/ Using Adams’ metaphor, what we have done is replaced one planet-sized computer, the geographic world, with another, the networked world.

7/ Software eating the world is the story of the networked world eating the geographic world as our default problem-solving context.

8/There are two major subplots. First, bits dominating atoms. Second the rise of a new culture of problem-solving.

9/ Whatever the mix of humans, software and robots involved, networked-world solutions tend to involve the same “social” design elements:

10/ Real-time information streams, dynamically evolving patterns of trust, fluid identities, rapidly negotiated collaborations…

11/ …unexpected emergent problem decompositions, efficiently allocated intelligence, and frictionless financial transactions.

12/ Each time a problem is solved using these elements, the networked world is strengthened; a self-reinforcing new normal

13/ As a result, the technological foundation of our planet is evolving with extraordinary rapidity as a branching, continuous process.

14/ Recently sprouted branches include: the Mobile Web, IoT, streaming media, VR,  AR, the Maker movement, blockchain.

15/ Labels like Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 are an attempt to understand this generative explosion in industrial terms as a staged, sequential process.

16/ Surprisingly, hardware specifics are not important in this evolution. Data, code, and networking are all largely hardware-independent today.

17/ Bruce Sterling captured this idea with his notion of spimes: digital master objects that can be realized in different physical forms.

18/ Wherever bits begin to dominate atoms, we solve problems differently. Instead of defining and pursuing goals we create and exploit luck.

19/ The geographic world solves problems in goal-driven ways, through literal or metaphoric zero-sum territorial conflict.

20/ The networked world solves them in serendipitous ways, through innovations that break assumptions about how resources can be used.

21/ Two early patterns in problem solving are free as in beer, and as in speech and streams over containers. More will emerge

22/ When we fully embrace the problem solving culture of the networked world, we will have a world breaking smart