Weathering Computing: The Links Between Computing and Weather Go in Both Directions

Kevin Walker

7 min readNov 23, 2023
‘Technological Nature’ installation by Daria Jelonek, 2017.

From January 19 to 22, FIBER hosted Part 4 of its Reassemble Lab: The Weathercapes Lab. The Lab broadly explored how the weather works; from the relationship between weather and climate as well as the relationships between weather measurements and the development of contemporary forecasting models and computer technology, and more. You may be surprised by the connections between computing and the weather that Kevin Walker explores — they move in both directions and work at all different scales, microscopically inside the computer and globally via networks, data centres, and clouds.

I was outside in the California desert. A nearby thermometer on a sunny wall read just over 40 degrees Celsius. This didn’t bother me — I love being out in the sun and the heat. My devices, however, don’t. Trying in vain to get some work done, my laptop gave out, and then my phone — both showed an ominous red thermometer symbol and told me it would take a while to cool down. Who knew humans are more resilient than computers?

This article discusses the relations between computing and weather, and I hope to change how you think about both by making three points: (1) weather happens at all scales; (2) computing and weather both interact with each other; and (3) a systems perspective helps understand these relations.

There are no things

What was going on inside that overheated phone? If we could zoom in, we would see, of course, a tiny chip on the phone’s logic board that shuts down most functions and triggers the warning message above a certain temperature (generally an outside temperature of 35°C).

But what if we zoom in even further, to the atomic level? At the very smallest level, according to Jeremy Rifkin, there are only vibrating quantum particles that don’t seem to sit in one place. That means, on a basic level, there are only oscillations and waves — there are no fixed things. Everything is moving and changing, always — ‘a non-material world of pure temporality,’ he writes [1]. What we perceive as a phone, a rock, or a person is merely a temporary coming-together of matter that will inevitably fall apart at some point.

This is, of course, how we think about the weather — a storm, for example, as a temporary and passing phenomenon. But we can think of all things like that. In this sense, we are the same as the weather.

The philosopher Emanuele Coccia goes even further: ‘living beings, even the simplest ones, are not just the victims of natural selection… they are equally capable of modifying the space that surrounds them’. We humans ‘are not inhabitants of the Earth; we inhabit the atmosphere.’ [2] Inseparable from their environment, bodies are shaped by ‘territorialisation’, just as wine is influenced by the soil and weather [3].

Artificial weather

Okay, but how about non-living things like phones and laptops? Can they also modify their surroundings?

If you’ve ever had a laptop on your lap with its fan blowing out hot air because it’s working so hard, you know the answer. Weather takes place inside devices, and in a very real sense, devices like computers and phones can in turn affect the weather. For what is ‘weather’ after all? As a temporal phenomenon that represents the state of an atmosphere, it takes place at every scale, from the atomic to the global. ‘Weathering,’ as artist Mint Park says during FIBER’s Weatherscapes talks, can be done indoors as well as out, and her use of a verb instead of a noun is important. If we translate the temporariness of things into language, we might only use verbs from now on — computing, not computers, for example.

‘Your phone needs to cool down’ installation by Fragmentin, 2019.

We’ve zoomed out of the device to the interior space, where climate control systems enable us to adjust our hyper-local weather. And here is a second key concept: if all things are temporal and temporary, a simple one-word way to think about them is as systems.

According to cybernetics [4] and systems theory [5], systems are characterised by modularity (systems within systems), self-organisation (like weather systems), and feedback — a building thermostat is a prime example of a simple feedback mechanism: like the sensor in the phone when the temperature reaches a set threshold, this triggers some action to keep the system at a steady state. And indeed we can think about weather this way too — not only regarding temperature but also air pressure, humidity, and interactions with the environment. Feedback implies two-way communication, and this means some sort of conversation or dialogue is possible.

Taking this perspective with us, let’s now zoom out of the building’s interior and go outside. Architecture exists in part to shield us (and our computers) from the weather (which is why their exterior is weatherproofed), but of course, this works in the other direction: In ways unforeseen and unintended by their designers, buildings affect the weather, even create their own weather. If you live in a city you know this intuitively — how buildings can accelerate wind gusts; how materials can raise temperatures.

Let’s remember too that a city, as a system, is not a static thing. The concept of ‘emplacement’ views any given place as an event — an ‘entanglement’ of weather, underlying geology, human activity, material objects, buildings, etc. [6] (David Colombini’s ‘The Weather Followers’ plays with this idea by making the weather affect your digital interactions.)

‘The Weather Followers’ installation by David Columbini / Fragmentin, 2017.

We can consider the weather as a measurable atmosphere, an environment we live in, and a time in which we experience it, according to curator Daphne Dragona. ‘In the age of anthropogenic climate change,’ she writes, ‘all weather is now artificial.’ [7] In her talk at the Fiber Festival, she explored which machines produce the weather. And conversely, if we think of the Earth as a kind of machine that produces weather, could we fix the machine by replacing parts?

So let’s zoom out even further to look at the sum of all that concrete, metal, and emissions, and we can envision the effects of our collective gathering and shielding ourselves from the weather. Add to that all the resources we draw from the environment to build and maintain this infrastructure. So not only systems within systems but different systems interlocking and interacting with each other.

Keeping our focus on computation (as a process, not computers as static things), let’s look at large-scale computing and its interactions with weather systems. If we then extend our time scale as well, then we shift from weather to climate. (‘Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.’) [8] Computing services are marketed as a ‘cloud’ that exists somewhere remote, and the large data centres that manage these services in practice affect ‘the environment and climate in ways that are far from being fully recognised and accounted for,’ according to Kate Crawford. ‘The cloud is of the earth,’ she writes, ‘and to keep it growing requires expanding resources and layers of logistics and transport that are in constant motion.’ [9]

To be fair, the major tech companies continue to make their data centres more efficient and more reliant on renewable energy. [10] On the other hand, they also market and license their services, engineering workforces, and infrastructures directly to fossil fuel companies. [11]

But ‘It’s always sunny somewhere!’

Is there another way? The Solar Protocol project brings together computing and weather to present an alternative: a series of solar-powered web servers in different countries means that the one receiving the most sun can serve up a website. The artists who initiated the project put it nicely:

If intelligence is the capacity to synthesise knowledge as logic and apply that logic to make decisions, then the Solar Protocol platform relies on an intelligence that emerges from earthly dynamics: specifically that of the sun’s interaction with the Earth. Our lives have always been directed by a range of natural logics that emerge from the intermittent dynamics of our shared environment. Weather, seasons, tides, and atmospheric conditions all dictate our behavior, enabling and constraining our movements, food production, and cultures. Solar Protocol uses these logics to automate decisions about how the network operates and what content is shown at different times of the day. How can we learn or relearn to design with natural intelligence? [12]

Zooming back into me and my overheating devices, I could have addressed two problems with a single solution: placing them under a solar panel.

Kevin Walker is an artist and a researcher at Coventry University, working across art, anthropology, and technology. He explores natural and computational systems, temporality, and environmental sustainability, through hardware and software development, installations and performances, academic and creative writing. He has made commissioned work for Centre Pompidou, Kensington Palace, Transport for London, and the British Council, among others; he has curated exhibitions and events, and written about art, AI, and related topics.


[1] Jeremy Rifkin, Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History, p.38. (New York: Touchstone Books, 1987).

[2] Coccia, Emanuele, The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture, ch.7. Tr. Dylan J. Montanari (London: Polity Press)

[3] Fox, Nick J. And Alldred, Pam, Sociology and the New Materialism: Theory, Research, Action (London: Sage). In the Weatherscapes project, artist Mint Park mentioned New Materialism in terms of materiality and the mattering of air and sound.





[8] This quote is attributed to someone in the UK Met Office, which predicts the weather, in the Financial Times, 21 Jan 2023.

[9] Crawford, Kate (2021) Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence, p.45. (Yale University Press)


[11] Crawford, Atlas of AI, p. 44

[12] The quote in the section heading also comes from there.




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