A Conversation on Computing and Water From COFES

By Dora Smith

“Fifty years ago computer science didn’t exist, today it is frothing into every aspect of life…By 2047 almost all information will be in cyberspace.””

That is a quote from a book John Voeller highly recommends you read. In the video clip in this post, he called it Beyond Computing – but meant Beyond Calculation, written for the 50th anniversary of the Association for Computing Machinery.

It was interesting to see where the conversation with John Gage and Voeller went. They started off talking about language and metaphors in computing, then they discussed how computers must become companions that present us with the impact of our decisions. In this clip, they go beyond computing (thus the book reference above) to discuss the difficult problems we face such as water conservation and distribution. 

Voeller notes our focus the past four decades has been on optimizing costs and now we need to optimize our world. Voeller suggests to address the big problems, you have to study their tangential components. That’s when the conversation went from  computing to considering how networks and connectivity could address water distribution. Gage notes we’re “continent at risk” and that water will be the “political and social determinant of war and peace.”

There was a lot of talk on sustainability at COFES, including a whole pre-conference dedicated to it called the Design and Sustainability Symposium. Check out Scott Wertel’s COFES report, where he reviews the conference in good detail. He noted the symposium made an argument for “green” being part of an accounting value.
“Software vendors are trying to collect data on all environmental costs associated with a product: mining, growing, shipping, processing, packaging, all the things that use energy before the end item is actually shipped, and then how much energy is needed to dispose of said product. A new science termed LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) is being employed in many industries to try to capture this data and put a value to it.”

That lifecycle assessment could help aid the analysis Gage and Voeller suggest we need to better optimize our world.

While I’m writing this my son is doing a school project on underwater creatures (he picked the jellyfish). He keeps peeking over my shoulder to hear Gage and Voeller talk about water issues. So I’ll end with  Beyond Calculation‘s dedication, which seems fitting given the little eyes and ears around me:
“to our grandchildren who will live with the consequences of what we say here and who will probably invent something better than anything we have imagined.”

Have a good weekend and let me know if you have any ideas on how computing and software like we make can help optimize our world.

– Dora

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at