Sunday, April 22, 2012

A surfeit of labor

A computer used to be a person who sat at a desk with slide rules, trigonometry charts, maybe an abacus and performed calculations. 

I get to wondering about this definition and what it means in terms of man-hours (pardon the sexism) spent doing work. Let's do a simple thought experiment.

Let's say that you have a well trained computer and she can perform any mathematical function including something complex like an algebraic equation with trigonometric function in 1 second. That's 21,600 calculations per hour. Times a 40 hour work week, 864000 calculations per week. Times 50 weeks, 43.2 million calculations a year. Times an optimum 80 year work life,  a little under 34.6 billion calculation in a human computer life.

Without pursuing the whole geometric progression of accelerating innovation, just thinking about the number of CPUs being made in the years 2011-2012, how many millions or billions of human lifetimes of labor are present in the earth's current stockpile of processors by this standard?

According to wikipedia as of 2010, the fastest six-core PC processor reached 109 GFLOPS. That's 18 GFLOPS or so per processor. Let's stretch the above figures and say 36 billion calculations in a human lifetime. So that is 1 human lifetime's worth of calculations every 2 seconds if we equate flops to a single human calculation.

What is the financial value of this calculating resource at minimum wage?

Update  [interrupted by work in the greenhouse] :
I don't mean for just 1 processor, but as I mentioned above, for all the earth's processors? Unlike humans, processors run regardless of sleep cycles, granted most of them are shut off by their human users so let's stick with the 7.2 million seconds per year as a duty cycle. 7.2 times divided by 2 makes 3.6 million human life-labors per processor per year. I'm still trying to run down the figures on annual CPU production.

Update 2: Ok, well, this will do. A ball park figure from this ZDNet article places last year's production of PCs at around 353 million possibly climbing to 500 million in 2012. So obviously there are way more CPUs than that. But let's take it easy and round it down to 250 million for both of the last 2 years. That brings us to 500 million processors arguably extent and running on the planet. 3.6 times 500 makes 1,800 trillion human lifetimes worth of calculating available for our use on the planet.

Hopefully I've fudged enough on the downside to cover any errors in my figuring.

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