topography. Despite talk of disruption,
it often seems that digital technology
simply reinforces and reproduces
the existing patterns of industry,
commerce, health, and government.
The patterns remain whilst the digital
geology has shifted beneath.
What would these institutions be like
if developed from the digital ground up?
In health, the demarcation between
medical doctor, nurse, surgeon, family
doctor, and health visitor is partly
due to different and essential abilities,
skills, and experience built up through
training and practice. Yet it also
reflects more superficial delineations:
the physical boundaries of hospital
walls and the information boundaries
between specialized, but often rote,
knowledge of bone, tissue, and drugs.
Digital technology transcends walls and
distance, and makes raw information
available to all. A new Wellness Village
at Llanelli will challenge some of these
boundaries, and, of course, digital
technology will be at the heart of this
transformation [ 2].
Large factories and mass production
harness the efficiencies of scale
through continuous production, with
specialized parts shipped around the
world, but flexible manufacture and
digital fabrication remove many of the
drivers for size.
More radically, the centralized
logistics of production and
distribution, replicated by global
corporations no matter how disruptive,
are but a relic of a financial past, and
crucially due to the fundamental
nature of money.
Money has two roles: the transfer of
value and the transfer of information.
The former was the oldest reason
for coinage or tokens of value, but
it is the latter, the hidden hand of
economics, that has driven the success
Between Swansea and Cardiff, the
Tawe, Neath, Ely, Taff, and Rhymney
rivers flow gray-silted into the sea.
They rise inland in low mountains to
the north, Hydra-like splitting and
bifurcating, running up deep-gouged
vales that once were the South Wales
mining valleys, the powerhouses of
industrial revolution: copper, iron,
and steam coal, making first Swansea
and then Cardiff the largest ports in
The pattern of water flow is much as
you would expect from any mountain
area: Myriad tiny streams tumble down
valley sides, joining to become rivers,
yet choked with coal dust decades after
the last deep mine closed. I remember as
a schoolchild falling into the Taff whilst
rowing and finding the mud below the
river bottom as deep as the water above.
It was a thick, oozing substance that
seemed to want to hold you, sucking
you into its pungent heart, just as the
flowing slurry of coal-tip had claimed
the children of Aberfan years before.
It is a river pattern typical to a
mountain area, until you look at the
underlying geology. The area is a
syncline, a basin-like structure where
the inner parts sank and the outer
edges rose, exposing easily accessed
coal measures at the periphery and
suggesting the potential for deep mining
within. It is the geology that made the
industrial history of the area possible in
the days before seismic surveys, but it
is also a geology at odds with the rivers
that flow over it.
Given the basin effect, you might
imagine a large lake with a single
outflow like Niagara Falls, or a circular
fan-like pattern of smaller rivers
running toward one another into a
single massive water flow that punches
through to the sea. But this is not what
the maps show.
In school we were taught that
the rivers form what is known as a
superimposed drainage pattern: They
were there before the syncline formed,
and, as the geology shifted beneath
them, they cut their way through the
shifting rocks, leaving a legacy of the
landscape before [ 1].
A few months ago, I became director
of the Computational Foundry at
Swansea University, a new initiative to
grow digital research capacity in Wales
for the good of the region, nation, and
world. Swansea was once known as
Copperopolis, the heart of the global
copper industry, and the Foundry takes
its name from the numerous copper
works that lined the lower reaches of the
Tawe, bringing jobs to many, wealth to
some, and ecological despoliation to all.
Looking at digital technology, I
wonder if the patterns of digitality
are merely a relic of the industrial
revolution and the merchant age before,
just as the rivers of the South Wales
valleys reflect a 100-million-year-old
Fate, Fiat, and Foundry
It often seems that
the existing patterns
of industry, commerce,
health, and government.
20 INTERACTIONS JANUARY–FEBRUARY2019