Life with Transistors

The electronic age grew out of the electrical age when devices were applied to information as well as industrial effort. Individually not much different than the electron tube in its decision making ability the transistor had the advantage that it could be fabricated in mass and its information processing power compounded.

Radio became personal when transistorized. No longer furnature, the five-transistor pocket radio enabled a young generation, my generation, to listen to the new music, rock-and-roll, without parental complaint.

The seven-transistor radio improved on its predecessor. But the printing of transistors, the integrating of circuits, was the mega-improvement. Integrated circuits created the unimaginable capability of computers in general and especially personal computers.

But as transistors became cheaper the presses that printed them grew ever more costly. Unimaginably costly. The industry that grew to print them demanded fabulous organization of skilled people and their intricate machines. Capitalism paid the bills. These few decades, the decades of my own life, the years of the computer era, have been capitalism's finest hour.

The personal radio and the personal computer promise choice. But the licensing of spectrum and the supply chain of silicon work against choice.

Further, capitalism's distributed decision making processes compound knowledge but lack wisdom. As we exhaust materials mined the world over we have to wonder whether computers will last, or anything else?

We can look to life for hints as to what might happen when distributed organization meets scarce resources. Life discovers means to continue. Some life does. Diverse life proves useful because some life survives.

The coal fields that powered the industrial revolution are early life's second act. Amazing. More so is the realization that even rock, granite, mountains, crustal plates, are all early life's repercussions on this planet.

We wonder if we, the species that invented computing, as well as many other cool things, has the knowledge, and especially the wisdom, to reorganize itself to last.

See Evolution of the Transistor: Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain discover foundation of electronics. post