From Typhoon to Computers

Translations tend to have this weird effect of imbuing additional meanings the original language didn’t intend to contain1. One of the possible origins for the word Typhoon is the Chinese pronunciation of “East Wind”(东风) 2. Interestingly enough, the word has been imported back to Chinese phonetically as “Typhoon”(台风) with a completely different meaning than the original word east wind.

There’s two translations of the word computers in Chinese: “计算机” and “电脑”. If we go through the typhoon exercise and translate them back to English. The first, “Computing Machine”, is not far off from the original meaning, but the second, “Electronic Brain”, seems far more imaginative; especially compared to what computer systems were able to achieve when these words were first translated.

When I started working on computers, machines were simply waiting for the next human instruction, the tools for managing them doesn’t really mask the rather tedious task.

However with latest generation of configuration management software, I finally feel like we started building solutions to tackle the automation problem in a fundamental way. Similar to the insight in Stephen Wolfram’s book “A New Kind of Science”, complexity can be derive from simple rules, the inverse also appears be true: “complex systems can be managed with simple tools following basic rules chained together”.

We are certainly nowhere near having all the right building blocks for deploying and managing self healing infrastructure, but it’s a great aspiration to build better automation and be one small step closer towards the “Electronic Brain”.