Prof. Bonnie Nardi Reports on LIMITS 2016 Workshop

The Second Workshop on Computing within LIMITS was held at UCI on June 9-10.  Among the organizers of the workshop were ISR faculty members Debra Richardson and myself, Professor Bonnie Nardi.  The objective of this series of workshops is to foster discussion on the impact of present and future ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits on computing. These topics are seldom discussed in contemporary computing research.  A goal is to foster concrete research that innovates on technologies, techniques, and contexts for computing within fundamental physical planetary limits.  Phenomena such as climate change, air and water pollution, soil erosion, declining fisheries, finite oil reserves, and a host of environmental problems, argue that we must consider out of the box approaches for new forms of computing that build on what we have developed so far, but that innovate to recognize the finiteness of the planet.

Prof. Tom Murphy from UCSD Physics presents at LIMITs 2016 workshop.What did we do at the Workshop? We talked!  Participants presented excellent papers and there was plenty of time for informal discussion.  We heard three featured talks.  Professor Lisa Nathan from UBC’s iSchool spoke about long-term design—beyond a single human lifespan, which is very relevant to the time scale of the problems we are concerned with.  Professor Tom Murphy from UCSD’s Department of Physics discussed his analyses of energy and the economy.  Some of what he spoke of can be found on his website “Do the Math” ( where he writes about economic growth, the meaning of sustainability, his chickens, and his view of the kind of personality people who care about limits tend to have.  Professor Sarah Taylor Lovell from the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois spoke of her research on finding sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture whose externalities of pollution, erosion, and similar problems indicate the need for study of other modes of food production.

The papers considered computational approaches to building shelter in a future of limits, the role of popular culture in creating technological narratives, the development of an Internet quine (i.e. a set of networking technologies and components required to create a self-sustainable Internet), approximate networking, systems complexity, digital Commons, and an online course on global disruptions and information technology.  The papers clustered within the subfields of SHCI (sustainable human-computer interaction), ICTD (information and communication technologies for development), networking/systems, and crisis informatics.  The focus on crisis informatics was new this year, and represents the understanding that many “crises” and “natural disasters” are actually the outcome of long-term sociopolitical processes that have altered the climate, topography, and so on, and thereby altered the populations and cultures who live in affected regions.

Students participated including Samantha McDonald who will join the Department of Informatics and ISR as a graduate student in the Fall, where she will be co-advised by ICS Professor Bill Tomlinson and me.  McDonald presented a paper on sustainable 3D printing. 

The papers are available at (click on Program).  

In addition to presentations, LIMITS 2016 featured small breakout sessions and lively discussions, with several people ultimately discussing collaborations they might form in the future—which was one of the key goals of the workshop.

Participants came from seven countries (Abu Dhabi, Canada, Pakistan, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US), which was fitting for our topic which is inherently global.

We videotaped this year’s workshop, and while the videos are not edited, you can get a good sense of the talks:

Day One:

Day Two:

The organizers would like to thank the Newkirk Center for Science and Society for their generous funding and logistical support, as well as the Center for Research in Sustainability, Collapse-preparedness, and Information Technology (Professor Debra Richardson, Director) for additional funding.  We also thank our community volunteer, Kathryn Hansen, who helped make sure everything ran smoothly and contributed to the discussions. 

LIMITS 2016 was held in cooperation with ACM SIGCAS—the Special Interest Group on Computers & Society.

More information about LIMITS 2016 is available at:

The papers from last year’s workshop, LIMITS 2015, are available at:

Another LIMITS workshop will be held next year; contact me if you are interested.  

This article appeared in ISR Connector issue: