Holes In The Embedded System

Steve Yegge has written a fascinating, thought-provoking article on embedded systems. In it, he discusses embedded systems ala games ala Mario Kart and muses on the invisible boundary around all embedded systems, how information gets into and out of embedded system and the possible ramifications when we think about all things as embedded systems.

A key point:

In our discussion so far, I have intentionally blurred the distinction between the host system (such as a fish tank or a game console device) and the host system’s host system (such as your bedroom or living room). But you’ve probably noticed by now that all host systems are embedded in some larger system. This is just the way things work. The fish tank is in your bedroom, which is a system embedded in a house, which is a system embedded in a neighborhood, embedded in a county, a nation, a continent, a planet, a solar system, a galaxy, a universe.

It’s perhaps not as clear in the case of fish tanks, but host systems often overlap and even cooperate. A city is composed of many interleaved subsystems. So is your body. It’s not always a simple containment relationship. Systems are made of, and communicate with, other systems.

But one way or another, all systems are embedded systems.

If all systems are embedded systems, isn’t it possible that our little corner of the galaxy is an embedded system that is controlled in some way by information that enters our system, unknown to us, through the holes that Steve talks about? And couldn’t our universe be another embedded system within some host system that we can’t even begin to comprehend but that is controlling our universe in invisible ways? Isn’t this what God (or Buddha or The Pink Unicorn or your deity of choice) does? He works in mysterious ways, right? But if he does, and if all systems are in some way embedded systems, what is God’s (or Buddha’s or The Pink Unicorn’s) host system? Whoops, my mind just exploded.

It’s an approachable article even if you aren’t a programmer and I highly recommend it. It IS long so print it out and read it in the bathroom or on the train but do read it. It’s not so much about programming (though I think he’ll get there eventually) as it is about metaphysical questions about our existence. At least to me it is.

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