Computing within Limits

The limits Ivan Illich described in his Tools for Conviviality have found their way into the title of the Computing within Limits workshop, that has taken place annually since 2015. It has brought together a group of scholars dedicated to promote the design of computing contributing to a transition to a future in which the well-being of humans and other species is the primary objective 1. A wealth of interesting terms and related design principles have emerged. First the term Computing within Limits itself, which brings together three principles, according to a 2018 paper by Nardi et al.2: it questions growth and aims instead for a steady-state economy, it considers models of scarcity in order to promote resilience in a diversity of current and future contexts, and lastly it aims at reducing energy and material consumption while avoiding the Jevons paradox or rebound effect, in which gains in efficiency often result in lower costs, a subsequent growing demand and increased resource consumption. The workshop’s focus and the interpretation of its title have shifted a little over the years, starting with an emphasis on designing in the abundant present for the use in a future of limits, to designing for the present with an awareness of current real-world limits. The papers published in the context of the workshop have given rise to several related terms: Benign Computing and Collapse Informatics.

  1. Workshop on Computing within Limits
  2. Bonnie Nardi, Bill Tomlinson, Donald J. Patterson, Jay Chen, Daniel Pargman, Barath Raghavan, and Birgit Penzenstadler. 2018. Computing Within Limits. In Communications of the ACM (10, Vol. 61). ACM, New York, 86–93.