Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who Will Lead the Next Computer Revolution, the East or the West?

Will it be China or India? Or will it be Europe or the US? I am putting my money on either China or India and here is why. The West has become severely handicapped by complacency and conceit. This is largely due to their having been at the forefront of the first computer revolution from the beginning. They are so immersed in and so drunk with the success of their own paradigm, they cannot imagine another paradigm replacing it. They have placed their famous scientists (Alan Turing, Fred Brooks, John von Neumann, etc...) on a pedestal. Nobody dares question the wisdom of the gods for fear of being ridiculed. As a result, nothing really new has emerged in more than half a century of computing. The approach to building computers is still based the old von Neumann architecture which is itself based on the algorithmic software model, a model that is at least 140 years old (Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace). Intel, IBM and AMD and the others are not doing research on truly new cpu architectures. Why should they? They're not in the business of inventing new computing paradigms. They are tool makers. They just produce processors that are optimized as much as possible for the current model. They have no choice but to continue to improve on the old von Neumann model by adding more speed, less energy consumption, more transistors, etc...

I think the West has forced itself into a dangerous situation. The reason is that, while this is going on, the computer industry is suffering terribly from a chronic malady called unreliability. Their own scientists (e.g., Fred Brooks) are convinced that the problem is here to stay. As bad as it already is, the real cost of unreliability goes deeper than it appears on the surface. Consider that over 40,000 people die every year in the US alone as a result of traffic accidents. The solution is obvious: people should not be driving automobiles. That is to say, all vehicles should be self-driving. However, building driverless vehicles is out of the question because concerns over reliability, safety and cost have imposed an upper limit on the complexity of our current software systems. On the military and political front, there is a desperate need to automate the battle field as much as possible in order to minimize human casualties and appease the voters back home.

The western world is thus stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have a really nasty problem sitting on their lap and it keeps getting worse. On the other hand, they have a bunch of aging gurus with a firm grip on the accepted paradigm, telling them that the problem cannot be fixed. This is where the East may want to capitalize on and profit from the West's self-imposed mental paralysis, in my opinion. What if there were another paradigm that solved the reliability problem at the cost of beheading some of the demi-gods of western computer science? Should the East care? I don't think so. Is it their gods that would be sacrificed? No. Does not the West look down on them as being mere copycats? Yes. Are they not the technological maids hired by the West to cook and do their laundry (outsourcing), so to speak? Yes.

The point of all this is that countries like China and India may have been late jumping on the wagon but there is no longer any reason nor necessity for them to continue riding in somebody else's wagon. They can now afford their own. They don't have to do other people's laundry anymore. This is why I advise the movers and the shakers of the East to take a good look at Project COSA. COSA is the solution to the nasty problem that everyone has been talking about. It's the one solution that the West cannot touch for fear of dirtying their "noble" hands and insulting their gods.

There is a revolution coming, no doubt about it. The market wants it and what the market wants the market will get, by whatever means possible. Who will come out unscathed? Who will cease the opportunity and lead the revolution? The East or the West? Can the West wake up out of its drunken stupor and realize the error of its ways and repent in time? Seriously, I don't think so. I have seen first hand the power and inertia of conservatism. The old guard will not be replaced without a fight. There is too much at stake... unless, of course, the revolution happens in the East. Then they would have to stand up and take notice.

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