Information and big history

Start a conversation about the future and history is usually invoked in the first minute or so. The small band of brave academics who pursue “Big History” are good to ponder here – creating narratives which cover the whole shebang, not just a special period.

Half way there are those who take one key theme through the epochs, with Vaclav Smil’s Energy in World History one of the most interesting efforts (he’s pretty fab on the biosphere, too). And the far futurists have envisioned mega stages of civilisation in terms of the scale of their energy use (a planet, a star system, a whole galaxy…).

Partly inspired by Smil, I’m pondering if there’s any way of tracking another key variable – information. Moore’s Law gets quoted ad nauseam, maybe rightly so. But has anyone tried to work out total processing power over time?

You could conjure up some rough numbers, I suppose, for human-created processing (or calculating?) power – the difference between, say, the quipu, the abacus and the hand-cranked calcutor… and on to the electronic age.

It might even be fun to plot information processing power of unaided living organisms separately, including human brains, and try and divine when human artefacts exceeded the combined power of the biosphere, and by how much.

I can think of some places to start looking for clues, and I know there are deep issues here, but has anyone tried this in a way which makes sense, or explained why it is a daft thing to do?

Explore posts in the same categories: big history, information

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