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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:1.5 Times World Output in Your Pocket

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Over at his blog, Grasping Reality With Both Hands, Bradford DeLong considers what it would take to emulate the latest iPhone with technology available in 1957. I'm inclined to agree with the commenter who thinks doing so at speed would have been impossible, but I think what DeLong comes up with is well worth considering:

iphone_earth.jpg
Image courtesy of Unsplash.
The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have:
  • cost 150 trillion of today's dollars, which is:
    • one and a half times today's global annual product,
    • more than seven times today's U.S. annual national product
    • forty times 1957's U.S. national product
    • fourteen times 1957's global annual product
  • taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space
    • that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power -- 30 times the world's current generating capacity
[minor edits]
This reminds me a little of a similar comparison, between the amount of hardware electronic data storage required that I mentioned here a few years ago: In fifty years, the weight of the hardware needed to store 8 GB of data had decreased by a factor of 134 million. (And that figure, I am sure, is giving a pass for how quickly one could access said data.)

Such comparisons can serve two apparently contradictory purposes. On the one hand, no matter how clumsily they do so, they help concretize otherwise very abstract kinds of technological progress. (See also photos at my old post.) And on the other, they help us imagine the full meaning of Frédéric Bastiat's parable of the broken window. I am far from finding fault with that simple example. However, it does fail to convey just how disastrous government "planning" and plunder can be, as when thought, effort, and property that could go towards the next near-miracle of innovation are, instead, squandered on the alleged needs of others today.

-- CAV

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