Saturday, May 7, 2011

Welcoming Our Microkernel Inspired Robot Overlords


"Welcoming Our Microkernel Inspired Robot Overlords"

Operating system kernels perform roles quite analogous to governments. They control the distribution of resources, set and enforce rules and control rogue processes. As such, I think the microkernel/monokernel debate has an analogy in governmental theory.

Would government be improved if the central government only managed smaller, more specialized governments? States' rights groups and other supporters of federalism would likely think so. Traditional American federalism isn't the only governmental architecture that would map onto microkernels and their helper daemons, though. A set of smaller, specialized legislative bodies with authority defined by area of expertise rather than geographical location would fit well as daemons, too. The microkernel could then be the voting populace.

Many of the arguments for microkernels map pretty well onto government as well. Limited legislatures (or other rule making bodies -- the system need not have a representative element) can be more rapidly shutdown in case of failure or bad behavior. They can also be hotswapped without bringing down the rest of the system, making it more robust and secure. Independently managed, empowered and funded specialist governments could potentially avoid the pain and inefficiency of a full government shutdown.

It seems the US government should be considered a hybrid system. The federal government and particularly the legislative and upper executive branches tending towards monolithic-ness and the state governments and executive departments bringing elements of micorkernel-ness.

The analogy isn't perfect, of course. I'm not sure how the very useful idea of checks and balances would play into the normally hiearchial OS models. Perhaps a distributed systems analogy could be useful. Still, it seems like OS architectural considerations like micro/monokernel discussions ought to be a fruitful framework for improving government design.

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