Measuring the digital divide

How many calculations do I consume per day (or per second), compared to a person with less access to a smartphone or the Internet?

Computation per capita could be a scientific measure of the digital divide.

Computing may forever be bits and powered logic gates. We measure computer output with FLOPS. [1]  We can average total computational power per person. Segmenting by country adds more insight, which would be similar to maps of Internet access.

We make decisions in some parts of the world without much computation. To improve inequality we provide greater access to computation.

Google and other open services are a force for equality. The cost of a search for any user in one part of the world is near equal to all others. The equality isn’t perfect. Google has more data about me and how I live, so there’s more computation done on my behalf. But even if that is true, less Google is likely better than no Google.

We could try to measure computation per “decision”.

Decisions have measurable amounts of computation. What is the average amount of computation that happens when you tap your phone (in the cloud and on the phone)? I don’t know if we could measure the impact of a tap.[2]  But we could calculate the computational output of a click or tap.

How could you compare the list above to one hundred years ago, or one hundred years in the future?

Perhaps the closest analog to the Internet in the last century was the number of telegrams, pieces of mail, or minutes of phone calls;

  • to design and build a locomotive
  • buy a stock
  • buy a ticket on a trans-Atlantic zeppelin
  • decide when to plant corn
  • decide to get married

One hundred years in the future I’m not sure what we’ll be doing, but I hope we will still make useful decisions. Some possible examples:

What could we name “computations per decision”?

Since I’m an unqualified amateur, I’ll make up a term; decision density.

The number of bits used per a unit of time to make a perceived decision.

Note “perceived”. By definition, we must be able to observe when we’ve made a decision. We do so based on the support of many calculations, but most computation is hidden [3] and increasingly ubiquitous.

If we can measure decision density per human, we would have another tool to measure the digital divide.

I look forward to mathy, articulate, and design oriented humans to elevate my prepost-human writing. Otherwise, I’ve got this post until I can ask Her to fix it.


Elon Musk mentions a “recursive y axis” in the video below as a way to measure progress, over time, of computation.

[1] – Factoring in energy you have performance per watt and Koomy’s law. This doesn’t tell us if the decisions were correct, or efficient (see big O notation or examples of bad code). Nor does this measure tell us how much pre-calculation went into a decision.

[2] – Maybe impact could be measured by how much money flows as a result. Or using HDI.

[3] – A calculation is contained in a function like f(x)=y, and the decision is the output. We could also say a calculation is made by a computer, and a decision is made by a human. (That line is already blurry).

Also – Check out the posts on Quora, the conversation on Hacker News


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