The Ever Expanding Domain of Computation
THE COMPUTER IS NOW the fundamental machine of our age. Continuing exponential increases in computing power both propel the potentially cascading benefits and catastrophic threats that demand better governance and create the tools for better governance. The computer is the force behind most material technological advances as more and more fields from biotechnology to energy are brought within the domain of its digital power.1 Advances in these material technologies will generate many benefits but also may create new dangers such as novel kinds of pollution and weapons.
The rapid rise of computers likely reflects technological acceleration, a process by which technological change has moved faster and faster over the course of human history. Thus, the growing power of computation will increase the pace of change, potentially generating social turbulence and instability.
Fortunately, computational advances are also driving advances in information technology, from the growth and deepening of the Internet, to the burgeoning power of empirical methods, to the increasing capability of artificial intelligence. The key to improving governance is to bring politics within the domain of such information technology. Only a politics that exploits the latest fruits of the computational revolution can manage the disruption that this revolution is bringing to the social world.
Computational capacity is growing at an exponential pace. Moore’s law, named after Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, is the observation that the number of transistors that can be fitted onto a computer chip doubles every eighteen months to two years.2 This forty-year-old prediction has correctly foretold that every aspect of the digital world— from computational calculation power to computer memory—is growing at a similarly exponential rate.3