Power Utility vs. Information Utility

In times of cloud computing and the rise of ultimate information utilities, we hear again and again about the history of electricity. The parallel is drawn in between private waterwheels that had to give way to power plants and personal computers that had to become dumb terminals. There is a whole great book by Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch, that tells the stories of electric current and computer power becoming utilities.

“What happened to the generation of power a century ago is now happening to the processing of information” p.12

The comparison is fully legitimate. But still its important to remember that electric power and computational power are not the same thing.

The director of MIT’s time sharing project MAC, Robert Fano, wisely noticed the principal difference:

“In information utility the power flows both ways […] Unlike a power utility, which basically just provides a resource that people consume, an information utility lets the users give back to the system. It even lets them create whole new resources in the system.” p.231 in The Dream Machine

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