Workshop: “Computing in the Cloud”

Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University
Introduction, Edward Felten

January 14, 2008 (11:20 AM – 12:00 PM)

On January 14-15, 2008 Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy conducted a workshop on cloud computing called “Computing in the Cloud.”  The two day event was sponsored by Microsoft and brought together experts from computer science, law, politics and industry to examine social and policy implications of this emerging computer technology paradigm.  The opening lecture given by Edward Felten, the Director of the Center, provided a general introduction to cloud computing and left the audience with some thoughts and questions to think about during the course of the workshop.  Felten offered a number of different working definitions to familiarize the audience with the uncertainly surrounding what cloud computing actually means.  For him, what connects all the definitions is the theme of location.  This poses the question: why is location so important?  (i.e. if I am the average computer user, why does it matter where data is stored and processed, whether it is on my personal computer or at a remote location over the internet on a foreign server?)  The answer is possession, access and control, and in the world of computing, this means power.  Felden notes that in the digital world, control of data has stronger implications than it has in the physical world.  Finally, Felten gives a brief summary of the history of computing and how we have ended up with cloud computing today.

The issue of controlling data and having “power” in the digital world offers a great deal of food for thought.  What is the purpose of having such power?  Is it to make money, control how and what people think, what they know?  If you consider cloud computing a paradigm and we are in the process of shifting into this new paradigm (if we have not done so already), then many aspects of our daily lives could be drastically impacted.  It seems inevitable that cloud computing will soon be a popular topic for political debate because of its wide range of influence.