A System is a Machine

Bear with me as my tired old brain wrestles with this problem.

The Computer has given new meaning to the word system. System software makes all the computer hardware work together. I can see the results as I type on my laptop computer – a truly awesome device that we take for granted. The keyboard, mouse, and display work together – with a fantastic amount of digital machinery behind it, thinking away, trying to figure out what crazy thing I am going to do next. And not only this – I am connected to the Internet – and the Cloud. The most awesome invention yet.

But most people prefer their Smartphone, a much simpler device – but one that fits in the hand, and is touch- sensitive. Surely, this is Heaven on Earth. We have become gods, with a reach that extends everywhere!

I see it differently. The Computer is using us to make itself better. Or perhaps, more realistically – the complex of Computers and People is evolving together – yielding results that cannot be predicted in advance. Perhaps we will be better off, and perhaps we will not. The Computer does not care.

Historically, the Machine came first. The Machine is just a way or organizing things – mostly people, to accomplish things much larger than tribes of people could (the way we were originally organized). Think of the Pyramids, all made with people who worked for bread, onions, and beer. What more could you want?

This was not an improvement in the human condition, as historians have shown conclusively. We lived much better as hunter-gathers – but Civilization was more successful – it took over completely. And people had no choice but adapt to it, as best they could.

Millions of years later, we invented the mechanical machine – which was also very successful. Soon we were serving it – in the form of the Railroads. And manufacturing all kinds of products – very cheaply! Industrialization took over, and resulted in WWI – much to everyone’s amazement.

Then we invented Electricity and Photography. Which led to the Telegraph and the Movies. Which led to WWII and the Holocaust. Definitely not an improvement.

But for Americans it was a blessing, and put them at the top of the world. Twenty years of prosperity followed – which I was the personal recipient of.

Then we invented the Computer – a new kind of machine, that dragged us, whether we wanted to or not – into a new world – where, once again – we were poorly equipped to respond to. This time,we were completely out of our depth.

I find this fascinating – a mixture of imbecility (as shown by Trump) and intelligence (as shown by the explosive improvements in Software Development).

We have accomplished only one thing – we have demolished the idea of Progress.


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