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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.[…]

How spreading sensitive information over thousands of computers could revolutionize digital security.

Question: What is cloudrncomputing, and what do you believe its future will be?


David Gelernter:rnThe idea of the cloud is that I compute on many platforms in many rnplaces.  I use many different machines, eitherrnbecause I have a machine at home, a machine at work, because I have a rncouple ofrnlaptops, maybe I have a cell phone which itself is a computing platform,rn a pod,rna pad, a Blackberry or whatever it is, there are a lot of differentrnplatforms.  I travel; I need torncompute in a lot of different places. rnSo, for practical reasons, rather than taking my information and rnputtingrnit in the file system on my new laptop, or on my machine at home, or on rnmy cellrnphone or something like that, it’s much easier for me just to let therninformation float off somewhere so it’s always sort of overhead, or somernintangible place around me and I can tune it in, in the sense that I canrn tunernin C-Span from any TV, cable connected TV, I want to be able to tune in rnmyrninformation and be able to see it from any internet-connected computer.  It’s importantrnin terms of portability; it has other major pragmatic advantages, some rnof whichrnhave not yet been fully realized. rnIt still is an enormous nuisance to buy a new computer, which isrnabsurd.  Why, when I get a newrncomputer it sits in my front hall for three weeks while I work up rncourage torninstall it.  I usually wait untilrnone of my sons is home so he can do the work for me because, although itrn shouldrnbe trivial, what I want is to get a new computer, take it out of the rnbox, plugrnit in, take a sledge hammer and smash the old one to bits, and I’m rnonline.  But because the cloud doesn’t reallyrnfunction the way I want it to yet, one has to copy, painfully, the rnentire filernsystem from one computer to the other computer, even if one rigs up a rnspecialrnconnection that’s a nuisance.  Onernalways winds up missing things. 


So, anyway, you need a cloud because you have arn lot ofrncomputers.  You need a cloudrnbecause you often get new computers that are born empty. rn Maybe most important, you need a cloudrnfor security.  More and morernof people’s lives is going online. rnFor security and privacy, I need the same sort of serious rnprotection myrninformation gets that my money gets in a bank.  Ifrn I have money, I’m not going to shove it in a drawer underrnmy bed and protect it with a shotgun or something like that.  I’m just going to assume that there arerninstitutions that I can trust, reasonably trustworthy to take care of rnthe moneyrnfor me.  By the same token, I don’trnwant to worry about the issues particularly with machines that are rnalways on, that are always connected to the network, easy to break into.  I don’t want to manage the security onrnmy machine.  I don’t want to worryrnabout encryption; I don’t want to worry about other techniques to rnfrustraternthieves and spies.  If myrninformation is out on the cloud, not only can somebody else worry about rnencryptionrnand coding it, not only can somebody else worry about barriers and logonrnprotections, but going back to Linda and the idea of parallelism and a rnnetworkrnserver existing not on one machine, but being spread out on many, I’d rnlike eachrnline of text that I have to be spread out over a thousand computers, rnlet’s say,rnor over a million. 


So, if I’m a hacker and I break into one computer, Irn may bernable to read a vertical strip of a document or a photograph, which isrnmeaningless in itself, and I have to break into another 999,999 rncomputers tornget the other strips.  You know, orrnit may be more computers than that. rnThe cost of computers is going asymptotically to zero, of course rnit will alwaysrncost money to connect them and keep them running and stuff like that, rnbut notrnonly for matters of convenience, which are very important, I need to be rnable tornget my data anywhere on any platform, but even more for privacy and rnsecurityrnwhen people talk about a cloud, they mean information that’s available rnon anyrnplatform managed, not by me, but by responsible—by an organization in rnwhom Irncan place as much trust as the institution as my community or my city rnthatrnpatrol the streets, that bank my money, that generally keep civilizationrnrunning.  They need to do the samernthing with respect to the information landscape and privacy and securityrn and sornforth.

Recorded on April 1, 2010.