Computing power

by Sebastian Benthall

I’m working on a project analyzing Twitter data with Sean Chen for a class. I am learning one of the simple pleasures of scientific computing, which is watching your machine ramp up to use all its processing power because numpy is crunching some big arrays.

There’s a sense in which computing power is the limited resource for humanity these days.

We have the vast canon of recorded human thought available as digitized text. We have countless sensors, oceans of data, very accurate models of the fundamental mechanics of our universe. We we lack is the ability to synthesize that data and learn as much as we could from it.

This isn’t new; brains are an important source of computing power, and in fact a remarkably efficient one. But digital processing and memory have accelerated human thought to such a degree that we have outpaced ourselves.

It doesn’t help that so much of this precious resource is used against itself. The processing power that spammers use to spread new spam is pitted against the processing needed to identify and block it. We revere projects like reCAPTCHA because they harness that computing power that otherwise goes to waste for something good.

So, there is something heartwarming about see that my little lappy is running at full steam. It’s actualizing some potential. I hope I’m putting it to good use.

EDIT: Ironically, just an hour or so after I wrote this, my laptop shut down spontaneously and wouldn’t restart until I took the battery in and out. Maybe lappy couldn’t handle it after all. I’ll be doing more intensive computing on the cloud from now on.

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