Benign Computing

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/benign-computing Stream

June 8, 2023

/stream /degrowth /benign-computing /complex-systems /climate-crisis

When reading about /benign computing, there was a point where it was explaining the way natural systems are more resilient to failure compared to the fragility of human-made complex systems. This reminded me of the fact that our poorly designed systems are stabilized by the resilience of nature, like how the global ecosystem was able to absorb and handle a huge amount of carbon emissions before deteriorating. This makes it very difficult for humans to see, since our time scales are so short.

/stream /reading /technology /permacomputing /degrowth /benign-computing /complex-systems

Read Abstraction, indirection, and Sevareid's Law: Towards benign computing after seeing it mentioned on Damaged Earth Catalog. It provides background on the idea that computing may, in general, be creating more problems than solutions, and proposes a design framework for computing that minimizes that outcome. The core principles are “scale out”, “fail well”, “open design”, and “fractal”. In essence, it promotes small nodes speaking open protocols that are individually resilient, creating an emergent larger network that also exhibits these properties. It prioritizes long term resiliency and harm mitigation over short term costs and maximum availability.

I like the idea of benign computing aiming to mimic how nature *fails*, instead of how it *succeeds*. Placing the emphasis on resilience as opposed to solutions naturally puts you in a defensive and critical position during system design. I think that this framework lends itself well to an analysis of the Coalescent Computer which shares many of these goals, and would benefit from a deeper analysis through this lens.