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 Asynchronous futures: Digital technologies at the time of the Anthropocene

Presentation given at PhiloWeb 2017, at Stanford, co-hosted with IACAP17.

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 Asynchronous futures: Digital technologies at the time of the Anthropocene

  1. 1. Asynchronous futures: Digital technologies at the time of the Anthropocene PHILOWEB 2017 @Stanford Alexandre Monnin UCA, Inria, I3S, Wimmics
  2. 2. Les dispositifs IoT According to think tanks and companies, between 50 and 100 billions objects will be connected to the Internet by 2050. Credits: IBM
  3. 3. Michael Walker, CEO of Apache Beam According to specialists, 1027 bytes will be generated by sensors networks!
  4. 4. Source : INTEL Intelligents Systems Framework The positive vision of this world is supposed to look like this
  5. 5. Some questions : 1) Automation and jobs Smart technologies + IA = in search of a new social model? 2) Robots ethics Etc.
  6. 6. However interesting these questions may be, they’re not my problem today
  7. 7. 2030…
  8. 8. Digitality: energy and resources Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  9. 9. Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  10. 10. ENERGY
  11. 11. Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  12. 12. “The continuing rise of Si based semiconductors is perhaps the major technological fact of the past five or more decades. Silicon-based technology is a “general purpose technology” [Bresnahan and Trajtenberg (1995)] underlying much of the improvement in information storage, information transmission and computation since the 1960s and some have argued [Brynjolfsson and McAfee (2014)] that it is the most important general- purpose technology ever. From 1968 to 2005, the number of transistors sold for use has increased by 10^9; by 2005 there were more transistors used then printed text characters (Moore, 2006)! However, the industry revenue per transistor has fallen almost as dramatically (Moore, 2006) as has the amount of material needed make a transistor. Nonetheless, the usage of silicon has grown significantly since 1970. We find it has grown by 345% over this period but also find the growth is less than GDP growth (472% in the same period) and that much of the growth of Si usage is associated with non-electronic applications. This growth would be 10^5 (or more) times as high 2005 transistor used as much Si as one manufactured in 1968 showing the importance of the profound change in “materials efficiency” this technological domain.” Magee and Devezas (2017), A simple extension of dematerialization theory
  13. 13. Moore’s law postulates the doubling of the number of transistors crammed onto computer chips every two years. Densification and the increase of the number of transistors account for the increase of computation power. On the left is represented the number of computations per second per computer which doubled every year and a half between 1975 and 2009.
  14. 14. Credits: "Silicon Quantum Integrated Circuits. Silicon-Germanium Heterostructure Devices: Basics and Realisations” E. Kasper and D. J. Paul Springer, Berlin, 2005
  15. 15. Second Moore Law: costs skyrocket
  16. 16. Most advanced transistors comprise merely a dozen of atoms… In June 2017, IBM announced about a breathrough with 5nm processors built around a new architecture ( 2017/06/5-nanometer-transistors/) Beyond the 3 atom limit, one would need to build single-atom transistors…
  17. 17. RESOURCES
  18. 18. 60% to 80% of the elements of the periodic table
  19. 19. Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  20. 20. Extraction is often secondary… Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  21. 21. … and costly! Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  22. 22. Credits: José Halloy (LIED)
  23. 23. Fizaine, F. and Court, V. (2015) “Renewable electricity producing technologies and metal depletion: A sensitivity analysis using the EROI”, Ecological Economics, 110, pp. 106–118. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.12.001.
  24. 24. New vulnerabilities • Solar panels are a renewable energy that requires oil, coal and other non-renewable resources…; • Relations between metals have not really been taken into account as of now: either as regards the extraction side of things (for an exception, see Fizaine: F. (2014) Analyses de la disponibilité économique des métaux rares dans le cadre de la transition énergétique. Université de Bourgogne, chapter 4,,) or their use in production (batteries need both lithium and cobalt); • Stress on resources is an additional geopolitical issue (we were used to waging wars for the control over oil, we may now witness wars for the control of the elements of the periodic table).
  25. 25. Counter arguments? The “inductive argument”: e.g.: "in the past, it was forecast that oil would become less available and it’s still here so there is nothing new under the sun." • Yet: Optimization vs. The rebound effect and physical limits; • Yet: Dematerialization as an expected result of technological progress and optimization vs. studies that put forward an inductive argument against the expected benefits of dematerialization (Magee and Devezas 2017, A simple extension of dematerialization theory: Incorporation of technical progress and the rebound effect: “the major empirical finding reported here [is that] direct dematerialization due to technological progress will not occur”);  The inductive argument thus proves to be a counter counter argument…
  26. 26. Where is research heading? (before the collapse) • Spintronics? Photonics? Quantum computing? • Biomimetics/Neuromorphics (Memristor, Sensible Machines) ? • New architectures (Adiabatic Computation)/New logics/New languages? • Towards the search for a different material basis (carbon-based microprocessors)?
  27. 27. “I implore my audience: Study physics. Help invent new kinds of nanodevices with high adiabatic energy coefficients. Design, build, and empirically test high-quality ballistic oscillators, interacting with quasi-static logical states, driving adiabatic transitions between them. Systematically find and eliminate sources of dissipation in your prototypes, one by one. Extend your designs to larger and larger scales of complexity, with larger and larger logic blocks ever more tightly and precisely synchronized. Design fully-reversible architectures, languages, and algorithms.” “Approaching the Physical Limits of Computing”, Michael P. Frank
  28. 28. Now? • The dualistic view is still prevalent in CS (especially where the discipline is mainly focused on algorithms and formalisms). CS understands itself has entertaining a relationship that is closer to maths than physics. • Turing : “From the point of view of the mathematician being digital should be of greater interest than that of being electronic” (Lecture to the London Mathematical Society on 20 February 1947). I stole this quote from José Halloy as well!
  29. 29. Where is research heading? (after the collapse)
  30. 30. The ontological issue with digitality: the overcost of an “ideal” world Crédits: Brian Cantwell Smith
  31. 31. Crédits: Brian Cantwell Smith
  32. 32. “It is this ability to ceaselessly cleanup after its own noise that so powerfully enables computers to seemingly sever their dependency on physical processes that underlie processing, storage, and connectivity. Yet the physical characteristics of a resource (be it computation, storage, or networking) cannot simply be transcended, and noise can only be conquered at the expense of other resources. For example, manufacturers must design electronic circuits using a voltage differential between 0 and 1 broad enough to fight off interference by galactic cosmic rays (“single event effects”), at the cost of increased power consumption (May & Woods, 1979); error-correcting codes, widely used to protect against transmission interference, result in both data expansion (and thus, reduced capacity) and increased processing load. In the latter case, designers will choose among different codes according to both the expected profile of the noise (frequency, intensity), and the resource trade-offs. Once again, then, independence from the material can only be obtained at the costs of certain trade- offs.” Jean-François Blanchette (2011), “A material history of bits”
  33. 33. The digitality “sandwich” Physical substrate/realization Digital Abstraction Noise control (increased power consumption/error-correcting codes) May in turn deteriorate the storage/substrate reliability
  34. 34. How about the Web then? • We can imagine a Web disconnected from the Internet (y concluding a Semantic Web). A low tech or « mixed tech » Web. Cf. the « downscaling the Web » initiative. • See also the mesh systems which allow to locally connect computers.
  35. 35. Ex. Shift from the Web We Want to the Web We Can Afford. A Web of transition – not necessarily an eternal Web.
  36. 36. • Of course, we should also avoid any “collapse- porn effect” and treat catastrophes as mere opportunities to innovate. • Thus, collapse informatics and post-colonial computing (see for instance Philip, Irani and Dourish (2012) ‘Postcolonial Computing: A Tactical Survey’, Science, Technology & Human Values, 37(1)) need to quickly converge.
  37. 37. Different visions of the future of the Web
  38. 38. Conclusion(s) • We have still have the means to work with high tech, and do research, how are we going to use that limited amount of time? • And, conversely, are we going to avoid doing things despite having the means to do so?  Designer Tony Fry is asking us to avoid “defuturing”. But to do so we need to actively defuture unsustainable futures and projects.  Time is of the essence: what can we do? what should we (not) do?
  39. 39. • Futures: multiple and asynchronous; • “L’avenir” synchronises diverging futures; • Our revolutions may be temporary; • The end of linear and cumulative progress; • Our (dominant) technology/infrastructure/research is not durables but we do inherit it: how are we going to mobilize it before the effects of the new era already set in motion (the Anthropocene) are being fully felt?
  40. 40. • We shall let go of past visions of the future in the 21st century especially in IT; • We should be ready to live in the ruins of the digital world that we produce on a daily basis; • We need to imagine a cyberpunk future, comprising « high tech », « low tech », alter-tech (permaculture ?), ruins, etc.  That’s already the world we live in! “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed”, once famously wrote William Gibson. It’s not just true of progress but also of collapse; • We need to ask ourselves: « what models should we encourage/discourage? »
  41. 41. "It’s not climate change – it’s everything change" (Margaret Atwood) "The starting point is demand reduction. Turn it off." (Tony Fry) Last quote I stole from José Halloy!