Nowadays, the apparent benefits that we get as a society from the use of electronic computers (PCs, laptops, mobile devices, routers) and their interconnections come at the expense of many issues.
We could talk about the inequality of access, about the black-box aspect of the majority of technologies, about the environmental impact of their manufacture, or about the exploitation of the cheap labor forces, as well as about the monopolies, systems of opression, and surveillance that happen on a higher level of abstraction, or about the consumerism and disposability of devices.
We can think about many advantages that they have brought. However one could argue that these don’t apply to the majority of the world.
Some of us want equality of access so that everyone can get the benefits that we have seen they can bring.
There’s a question of how much we, that already have access, get the most out of these technologies.
In general we want more computational power, but why? Isn’t it the same pattern of behavior that has brought the main problems in the world? (Wanting more money, wanting more power)
Electronic computers have the advantages of being very fast and being able to handle repetition very efficiently and without complaining. This is completely linked to a productivity-based mindset.
Ironically, for us to avoid doing the repetitive tasks that these devices can handle, we need devices built by people without other option than to execute repetitive tasks for a living.
The organic food movement seeks to rethink or revisit the production of food, looking at what does it imply to produce it at home or locally to disconnect oneself from the global market, and to what extent would that be scalable.
What would be the equivalent in terms of electronic computers? It is possible to build a microprocessor out of integrated circuits, but these have to be supplied in some way, being either already existing or new. The integrated circuits could be replaced by arrays of transistors, but again, because of their nature of semiconductors, they are not readily available and would need to be supplied in some way, being either already existing or new. And even if it was feasible to build homemade transistors, the appropriate sillicon would need to be supplied in some way.
How could we get out of this situation?
Is there something else coming from computation besides efficiency and productivity? We should remember that people studied these topics in the abstract realm before being able to implement them in reality.
Several models and illustrations have existed, all of them theoretical but that had been proved to work. Starting from the concept of Turing Machine and Universal Turing Machine, and eventually getting to the von Neumann architecture that we nowadays use as a basis.
What if we brought these ideas to reality? One of the main implications of the theory of computation is that a computer can be any machine or process with a specific stucture and set of rules. This implies that we can execute by hand an equivalent procedure even if it’s millions of times slower than what we are used to.
Maybe this will allow for a better understanding of these devices. There’s a tendency of thinking of them (and making people think about them) as something mystical, magical. And at the end, as they are electronic devices and electricity IS something that appears mystical and magical, there’s not much of a way out.
This project aims to construct a fully functional computer that can be “built” anywhere where a person lives. The computers needs at least one person for it to work. The “architecture” and set of rules that comprise it allow for programs to be made, and then to be executed, using readily available materials.
A person or group of people following the instructions, won’t need to know what is the procedure they are executing, as a digital computer (or any computer) ignores the same fact.
What happens when we see the process of computation as non-utilitarian? If this computer is neither fast nor efficient, what is it? Can it shed light on the nature of computation? Can it unite the people making it come “alive”? Can it empower us to make this computer from scratch, free of the massive forces of the global economy?