Clouds. Cloud giants. Here’s my personal paradox or Catch-22: The more transcendent, meditative, transcendental, new-age, peace-loving, and global the term, the more hegemonic and oppressive it is. Or at least that’s where I set my personal default if I wanna be cautious.
But then again, I need to wait five years until I can have my own hyper-personalized assistance, as voiced by Scarlett Johansson inHer. This is what computer scientist John McCarthy said, and he coined the term “artificial intelligence”way back in the middle of the 20th century (1955).
And now that the Google boys have scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil helping out with “Google Brain,” who knows? (What we do know is Google is investing more than the 100 million President Obama is.) It was Kurzweil who came up with the notion of “the singularity,” or deep learning (e.g. the Google Brain team studies how the brain works as humans become redundant, or at least a little slow, as machines outstrip our individuality and performance). But don’t worry, that’s not until 2045, so if you’re alive today and anywhere near my age, we shouldn’t be concerned.
For now, worry more about your data, since, as the New York Times’s Quentin Harding, who has the technology beat, put it, “everyone works in the clouds.” That is, unless you live where the gods must be crazy and you are the one person who can truly live off the grid with no smartphone, tablet, PC, or web browser. Nor if you use Dropbox or Netflix, or buy any physical or virtual good or service on Amazon. Ninety percent of industry on this planet will be spending its income on such clouds that manage computer servers, data storage, and networking.
We are all in it together. After all, China (Quros), Obama’s socially savvy 2012 campaign,and the CIA use Azure, Amazon’s dark cloud. And here I’m not even taking into account what Facebook is doing in having its 1.28 billion existing users think they’re finding their own self-interest as they monitor and change their settings themselves. (Do you want friends or do you want to choose your ads?)
How did IT acquire all this power? Intel co-chipmaker Gordon Moore supposedly thought of all this in, you guessed it, a law named after himself called “Moore’s Law.” What it predicts is that “the same amount of money buys twice as much computing capability every 18 to 24 months.” So “flush with the scale and cost savings they have already seen, think they can keep crushing costs indefinitely, increasing the impact of Moore’s Law.”
And we can review. Initially it was the hardware, then the software, and now the services that cost consumers money. And once we all got rid of cable, it looked like we’d replace our cable fees with some form of web-rental fee. Just look at Salesforce, which increased in value 1,200 percent in 10 years and has a $33 billion market capitalization.
All of this get back down to the same old two-handed story, contradiction, Catch-22, or paradox. We can all dream, since every person on the planet now has great capacity (how could Pinterest load 60 million pictures without Amazon’s dark Azure cloud?). But here’s the bottom line for all of us planet plebs, as Microsoft distinguished engineer Yousef Khalidi put it: The “actual design of these things will be understood by just a few hundred people.”
All of these clouds make the 19th-century robber barons look pretty darn small next to the few in the planet trillionaire-club. And I’m with 87 percent* of the planet in suggesting that someone, something, or some sovereign of any thing should make those folks accountable. One thing I’m gonna go out on a limb and predict is that those few hundred will all be a “few good men.”
*Planet Poll Highlights (15,000 consumers in 15 countries):
Question: Would you be willing to trade some privacy for greater convenience and ease?
Planet – No: 51%; Yes: 27%
U.S. – No: 56%; Yes: 21% percent. (Britain similar);
Germany — No: 71% Yes: 12 %; India: No: 40%; Yes: 48%.