You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Analog: the landscape, not the map?

Here’s another page from Seth Godin‘s super-interesting e-book (did I mention it’s a free [PDF] download?), What Matters Now. This one is from George Dyson (of the Dysons that include his father Freeman Dyson and his sister Esther Dyson):


Analog computing, once believed to be as extinct as the differential analyzer, has returned.

Digital computing can answer (almost) any question that can be stated precisely in language that a computer can understand. This leaves a vast range of real-world problems—especially ambiguous ones— in the analog domain. In an age of all things digital, who dares mention analog by name? “Web 2.0” is our code word for the analog increasingly supervening upon the digital—reversing how digital logic was embodied by analog components, the first time around.

Complex networks—of molecules, people, or ideas —constitute their own simplest behavioral descriptions. They are more easily approximated by analogy than defined by algorithmic code. Facebook, for example, although running on digital computers, constitutes an analog computer whose correspondence to the underlying network of human relationships now drives those relationships, the same way Google’s statistical approximation to meaning— allowing answers to find the questions, rather than the other way around—is now more a landscape than a map.

Pulse-frequency coding (where meaning is embodied by the statistical properties of connections between memory locations) and template-based addressing (where data structures are addressed by template rather than by precise numerical and temporal coordinates) are the means by which the analog will proliferate upon the digital.

Analog is back, and here to stay.

George Dyson is the author of Baidarka, Project Orion and Darwin Among the Machines, as well as a recent short story,
Engineers’ Dreams.”

George Dyson (from Wikipedia)

George Dyson (from Wikipedia)

What I love here: the reminder that analog and analogy share a root meaning; the idea of landscape as analogy (as opposed to a map – I was reminded of what I used to do as an art historian: trying to “map” meanings – historical, ideological – to painted landscapes…); of answers finding questions (hm, try to wrap your head around that one…!); of analogy profilerating on the digital – I love the image that evokes, analogically-speaking!


  1. Lots of food for thought in your last two posts. I guess I will have to download the eBook to get into the entree and dessert of that with which you piqued my appetite here!

    Comment by maria — December 17, 2009 #

  2. I detest the abuse of the term “Web 2.0” that we see so much these days. But this is not an abuse, this is an enlightenment. Thank you for sharing. I love it.

    Comment by Davin Greenwell — December 17, 2009 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Recent Posts



Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds.