David Gelernter
Writer, Artist, & Computer Scientist

How the Cloud Protects You From Hackers

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People are rightly hesitant to put all their private data in the hands of big corporations, but Gelernter argues that this is in fact the safest place for it.

David Gelernter

David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, and member of the National Council of the Arts. He is the author of several books and many technical articles, as well as essays, art criticism, and fiction. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer-communication and distributed programming systems worldwide. According to Reuters, his book "Mirror Worlds" (Oxford University Press, 1991) "foresaw" the World Wide Web and was "one of the inspirations for Java"; the "lifestreams" system (first implemented by Eric Freeman at Yale) is the basis for Mirror Worlds Technologies' software. Gelernter is also the author of "The Muse in the Machine" (Free Press, 1994), the novel "1939" (Harper Perennial, 1995), "Machine Beauty" (Basic Books, 1998), and most recently, "Judaism: A Way of Being" (Yale University Press, 2010).


David Gelernter: Maybe most important, you need a cloud for security.  More and more of people’s lives is going online.  For security and privacy, I need the same sort of serious protection my information gets that my money gets in a bank.  If I have money, I’m not going to shove it in a drawer under my bed and protect it with a shotgun or something like that.  I’m just going to assume that there are institutions that I can trust, reasonably trustworthy to take care of the money for me.  

By the same token, I don’t want to worry about the issues particularly with machines that are always on, that are always connected to the network, easy to break into.  I don’t want to manage the security on my machine.  I don’t want to worry about encryption; I don’t want to worry about other techniques to frustrate thieves and spies.  If my information is out on the cloud, not only can somebody else worry about encryption and coding it, not only can somebody else worry about barriers and logon protections, but going back to Linda and the idea of parallelism and a network server existing not on one machine, but being spread out on many, I’d like each line of text that I have to be spread out over a thousand computers, let’s say, or over a million. 

So, if I’m a hacker and I break into one computer, I may be able to read a vertical strip of a document or a photograph, which is meaningless in itself, and I have to break into another 999,999 computers to get the other strips.  You know, or it may be more computers than that.  The cost of computers is going asymptotically to zero, of course it will always cost money to connect them and keep them running and stuff like that, but not only for matters of convenience, which are very important, I need to be able to get my data anywhere on any platform, but even more for privacy and security when people talk about a cloud, they mean information that’s available on any platform managed, not by me, but by responsible—by an organization in whom I can place as much trust as the institution as my community or my city that patrol the streets, that bank my money, that generally keep civilization running.  They need to do the same thing with respect to the information landscape and privacy and security and so forth.