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The Black Clouds

3 Jan 2021, 19:51 UTC
The Black Clouds
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Time has a way of sliding by. More than five years ago, I wrote a blog post with a suggestion for a new cgs unit, the oklo, which describes the rate per unit mass of computation done by a given system:

1 oklo = 1 bit operation per gram per second

With limited time (and limited expertise) it can be tricky to size up the exact maximum performance in oklos of that new iPhone 12 that I’ve been eyeing. Benchmarking sites suggest that Apple’s A14 SoC runs at 824 32-bit Gflops, so (with Tim Cook doing the rounding) a trillion oklos.

Computational energy efficiency also keeps improving. Proof-of-work based cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have laid the equivalency of money, power and bit operations into stark relief. The new Antminer S19 Pro performs SHA-256 hashes at an energy cost of about one erg per five million bit operations, a performance that’s (only) six million times worse than the Landauer limit.

For over a century, it’s been straightforward to write isn’t-it-amazing-what-they-can-do-these-days posts about the astonishing rate of technological progress.

Where a calculator like ENIAC today is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have ...

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