The distributed nature of our technology

How everything around us is powered by grids

It is 2020 and we are finding ourselves having built technology that is largely decentralized. Traditionally we didn't think of technology this way. We thought of a single machine capable of an enormous amount of computation and storage. Remember the memory-editing machine and the facial recognition software running on it from 'The final cut'? It was a single machine built with sophisticated hardware and software.

Something we hadn't imagined till the advent of the internet was how inexpensive communication could be. We hadn't realized that we didn't need a single highly specialized machine if we can just connect an array of machines across the world. And this discovery changed forever the trajectory of our technology. It is 2020 and we now live in a connected world. So connected that the word 'smart' when used for devices just means 'connected to the internet' - if it isn't connect to the world-wide-web, then it isn't a 'smart' device.

How did artificial grids come into being? Think about power grids. It was much more convenient to build a gigantic electric generator in one place and distribute its energy rather than building a small one in each house. We've been inventing and using grids for thousands of years now. With telephone lines you could transfer the sound of your voice to a person hearing to it thousands of miles away. With agricultural canals you could tap into a large water body and distribute water to farms hundreds of miles away. Railway lines, sewage pipes, plumbing, telegraph wires - each of these have been steps in the advancement of humanity. One grid at a time.

satellite view of earth's surface

From a resource perspective what are we doing when we invent a new grid? We tap into a pool of resource (natural or artificial) and make the resource available in another geographical location. We're effectively moving parts of the resource spatially from one point to another. And this spatial transposition is the foundation of almost everything that we see around us today.

Our heavy dependence of networks creates the space for some very interesting questions. What would the world be today if instead of decentralized and distributed networks we had created some other foundational structures? Are grids the structures that naturally come into being for the type of intelligence we have? For what kind of intelligence grids wouldn't be the way to get things done?

And the most important question of all - what is the next grid that would revolutionize the way humans operate?