Will Cloud Computing Make Us Safer?

Question: What is cloud\r\ncomputing, and what do you believe its future will be?


David Gelernter:\r\nThe idea of the cloud is that I compute on many platforms in many \r\nplaces.  I use many different machines, either\r\nbecause I have a machine at home, a machine at work, because I have a \r\ncouple of\r\nlaptops, maybe I have a cell phone which itself is a computing platform,\r\n a pod,\r\na pad, a Blackberry or whatever it is, there are a lot of different\r\nplatforms.  I travel; I need to\r\ncompute in a lot of different places. \r\nSo, for practical reasons, rather than taking my information and \r\nputting\r\nit in the file system on my new laptop, or on my machine at home, or on \r\nmy cell\r\nphone or something like that, it’s much easier for me just to let the\r\ninformation float off somewhere so it’s always sort of overhead, or some\r\nintangible place around me and I can tune it in, in the sense that I can\r\n tune\r\nin C-Span from any TV, cable connected TV, I want to be able to tune in \r\nmy\r\ninformation and be able to see it from any internet-connected computer.  It’s important\r\nin terms of portability; it has other major pragmatic advantages, some \r\nof which\r\nhave not yet been fully realized. \r\nIt still is an enormous nuisance to buy a new computer, which is\r\nabsurd.  Why, when I get a new\r\ncomputer it sits in my front hall for three weeks while I work up \r\ncourage to\r\ninstall it.  I usually wait until\r\none of my sons is home so he can do the work for me because, although it\r\n should\r\nbe trivial, what I want is to get a new computer, take it out of the \r\nbox, plug\r\nit in, take a sledge hammer and smash the old one to bits, and I’m \r\nonline.  But because the cloud doesn’t really\r\nfunction the way I want it to yet, one has to copy, painfully, the \r\nentire file\r\nsystem from one computer to the other computer, even if one rigs up a \r\nspecial\r\nconnection that’s a nuisance.  One\r\nalways winds up missing things. 


So, anyway, you need a cloud because you have a\r\n lot of\r\ncomputers.  You need a cloud\r\nbecause you often get new computers that are born empty. \r\n Maybe most important, you need a cloud\r\nfor security.  More and more\r\nof people’s lives is going online. \r\nFor security and privacy, I need the same sort of serious \r\nprotection my\r\ninformation gets that my money gets in a bank.  If\r\n I have money, I’m not going to shove it in a drawer under\r\nmy bed and protect it with a shotgun or something like that.  I’m just going to assume that there are\r\ninstitutions that I can trust, reasonably trustworthy to take care of \r\nthe money\r\nfor me.  By the same token, I don’t\r\nwant to worry about the issues particularly with machines that are \r\nalways on, that are always connected to the network, easy to break into.  I don’t want to manage the security on\r\nmy machine.  I don’t want to worry\r\nabout encryption; I don’t want to worry about other techniques to \r\nfrustrate\r\nthieves and spies.  If my\r\ninformation is out on the cloud, not only can somebody else worry about \r\nencryption\r\nand coding it, not only can somebody else worry about barriers and logon\r\nprotections, but going back to Linda and the idea of parallelism and a \r\nnetwork\r\nserver existing not on one machine, but being spread out on many, I’d \r\nlike each\r\nline of text that I have to be spread out over a thousand computers, \r\nlet’s say,\r\nor over a million. 


So, if I’m a hacker and I break into one computer, I\r\n may be\r\nable to read a vertical strip of a document or a photograph, which is\r\nmeaningless in itself, and I have to break into another 999,999 \r\ncomputers to\r\nget the other strips.  You know, or\r\nit may be more computers than that. \r\nThe cost of computers is going asymptotically to zero, of course \r\nit will always\r\ncost money to connect them and keep them running and stuff like that, \r\nbut not\r\nonly for matters of convenience, which are very important, I need to be \r\nable to\r\nget my data anywhere on any platform, but even more for privacy and \r\nsecurity\r\nwhen people talk about a cloud, they mean information that’s available \r\non any\r\nplatform managed, not by me, but by responsible—by an organization in \r\nwhom I\r\ncan place as much trust as the institution as my community or my city \r\nthat\r\npatrol the streets, that bank my money, that generally keep civilization\r\nrunning.  They need to do the same\r\nthing with respect to the information landscape and privacy and security\r\n and so\r\nforth.

Recorded on April 1, 2010.

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