The 100 Year Computer

March 13, 2023    Bookmark

We could approach computing completely differently. Currently we build software to fill new hardware. We build hardware to provide capacity for new software. What if we focused on improving sustainability for that which was already ‘good enough’? What if instead of designing computers with 5 year lifespans, we designed them with 50-100 year lifespans?

My favourite computer is my Commodore Amiga 4000. It was my dream machine growing up. I do stuff on it that nobody in their right mind would do, from hanging out on Telegram to modeling COVID stats. But even my nearly 30-year old Amiga was never designed for a 50, let alone 100 year lifespan. The Amiga uses custom chips that were last made in the 90s. To design something with a 100 year lifespan we must think very differently about a computer’s use and role.

We used to use computers mostly offline. At home we’d play games, look up facts, write letters, store recipes, maybe a small inventory. Most would buy (or copy) programs. Some would write their own. Today we do most of this but the systems are permanently online. This convenience comes at a cost. Outages cut off access to data that should’ve been local. Exporting information can be difficult, if not impossible.

Steve Lord