“Durable Computronics”

Durable computronics is my placeholder name for a fantasy ethos of computing (embodied in a fantasy set of institutions) that favors reliability, security, personal accountability and simplicity over functionality and innovation.

I have no vision for seeing this implemented in the real world and do not pretend that it is feasible given the current landscape of incentives. Again, this is fantasy; approach it as a creative “world-building” exercise for a speculative civilization, rather than as a serious policy proposal. I would simply like to imagine a set of rules and institutions that might give rise to a world where “software engineering” as a profession actually does carry the same legal and scientific rigor required of electrical engineers, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, civic engineers, etc.; where the pace of change in technology is much slower; and where technology is an evergreen structural support to a way of life.

Examples of computronics in history and fiction

Professional licensing and liability

The design of computational electronics, including software and interfaces, placed into use by any person other than the designer or their adult partner(s), must be signed by a licensed Computer Engineer (the engineer of record), as well as reviewed and approved by a public official (who shall also be a licensed Computer Engineer). The engineer of record is personally liable for each separate failure event of any system built according to their designs. If a system deviates from its design, the contractor becomes liable for any such failure, whether related to the specific deviation or not.

A design may include other certified hardware or software designs as components or layers, but liability for failures in a design remains fully with that design’s engineer of record; it cannot legally be passed through to its components’ engineer of record.

Personal use

People are free to design and operate electronics of any kind for their own use or the use of other adults residing with them, for any otherwise legal purpose, without formal training or certification.


Designs constitute hardware, source code and documentation; where certification is required, the entire stack is reviewed and certified as a single design.

The sale or distribution of general-purpose hardware components without accompanying software, user interface and documentation is prohibited.

The documentation must specifically address each of these areas:

Designs are categorized in Rings according to their intended use:

Both hardware and software must be provably correct according to the criteria given in its documentation and the minimum requirements (TK) for its ring level.

Software and source code distribution

Software may be distributed, in source code or binary form, separately from hardware, without licensing, certification or documentation requirements.

Any software placed into use on a non-personal system, or for any business purpose, must be part of a formal design signed by an engineer of record and reviewed/approved by public officials.