It’s Still A Physical World
The other day I was rudely reminded of the difference between physical and digital: My car battery was dead. The primary cause was a lack of use for about six weeks (eye operation). It wasn’t a question of the age of the battery or being drained (e.g., headlights left on), It was just sitting there, doing nothing.
Wrong. No physical device ever does nothing. The universe continually interacts with every object, constantly subjecting each to innumerable physical and chemical forces. For the car’s battery, it was weather (changes in temperature). That’s all it took.
We know batteries, even when not in use, don’t last forever. We know this because the small ones we buy (AA, AAA, 9V) have expiration dates. Their physical components degrade over time. They cannot resist the universe forever—not even for more than a few years.
Batteries are the weakest link in any aspect of computing because they’re the least digital component. Car batteries may not seem relevant to computing, but the more we transfer our computing to mobile devices, the more batteries become the limiting factor.
Batteries are the most obvious aspect of computing’s inescapable struggle with the universe. But everything electronic is physical and chemical (and if you look deep enough, quantum mechanical). As such, they are subject to the laws of nature, whether large like gravity or tiny like electrons. And everything in between—like changes in temperature.
There are people proclaiming our future will be a digital utopia. For them, computers are purely logical devices. Wrong. That’s just an ideal and can never exist in reality. Computers are logical machines only in the abstract. Bringing them down to earth, using them in the world we live in, they must be subordinate to the laws of the universe. Even as you and I.