The Joy and Toll of Moore’s Law

Redistricting was also affected by Moore’s Law.  I saw no reason that Gordon Moore’s prediction should be a law, as I saw it as a mere coincidence that would be temporarily true. I still don’t understand why Moore’s Law is true, but I was obviously wrong about it being temporary.  The result of ever increasing computer power was not just that a computer could win a chess game.   Somehow, the promise of more computing power on everyone’s desktop (even mine!) didn’t mean I had the computer power to do automated redistricting.  The reality was major gains for gerrymandering.   It gave those who gerrymander an increasingly powerful tool.  By having the Census Bureau include voter districts, the GIS companies could more accurately correlate voter data with census data.  The addition of voter data made gerrymandering software stunningly accurate, so that most incumbant candidates for district office won before the first vote was cast.

Politicians have strained to ignore that a computer can do redistricting.  Ironically, the precision of gerrymandering  is made possible by gerrymandering software.  Redistricting software is limited to curious academic research and hobbyists, even though gerrymandering software is more difficult to write since it must also include voter registration data.  The difference is that gerrymandering software is profitable, since there is a strong demand for it from politicians.  Thanks to increased computer power, the purchase price of a safe seat is way less than the cost of an election campaign.

 Another problem was the fragility of software.  If the software is to be widely understood, a high level language is needed.   More powerful computers were an excuse to upgrade software, making previous software obsolete.  Digital decay and data rot set in.  BASIC went from MSBASIC to QBASIC to VBASIC which demonstrated a problem for redistricting software. A decade from now, software written today could be useless just because of a language change.  If a computer program to do redistricting is actually used, it would have to be backed by law. What was needed was a computer language would be stable for decades, not merely years.   Otherwise, the law would be useless as the computer program it was based on couldn’t be run in the future.   I decided to abandon BASIC in favor of FORTRAN for that reason.  FORTRAN isn’t dependent on a particular operating system.  It  runs on open source operating systems which are more stable as well.  Of course, FORTRAN is out of the mainstream where obscuring the software code contributes to profits.  And yes, FORTRAN has been around so long that many FORTRAN programmers are now in graveyards.

But the huge increase in computer power was just one revolution, and  Moore’s law says that revolution will continue.  But another bigger revolution is my next topic.


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