Cloud computing

Some of the world’s finest minds in academic philosophy are debating the impact of the internet and cloud computing in Cambridge this week.

We have a choice about how we build and regulate the cloud.

Dr Alex Oliver

The event takes place today and tomorrow, and is hosted by the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, and supported by Microsoft Research. An international workshop of world-renowned philosophers, ethicists, sociologists and practitioners will discuss the philosophical issues surrounding cloud computing, a concept that has been described as one of the most radical changes to the way we compute. There will also be two public lectures at Corpus Christi, Cambridge.

Cloud computing is first and foremost a change in the geography of computing. Instead of the hardware on your computer doing the computing, the data storage and processing are carried out by hardware held in a different location. Facebook, Gmail and Flickr are well-known examples of computing in the cloud; a widespread move to cloud computing would see third-party servers providing nearly all computing needs, with users accessing software and data as needed.

Benefits claimed for cloud computing include access to far more powerful computing facilities than ever before, convenience and reliability of communications, greater flexibility for a mobile workforce, and a cost-effective alternative for businesses needing to maintain an up-to-date IT infrastructure.

But the provision of computing as a utility also raises philosophical issues, particularly questions of responsibility. Among these are who should own what data, and what happens to privacy when we compute in the cloud? How do we ensure the trustworthiness of those who manage the cloud, so that people use it confidently? And what is it about their computing practices that lead people to want the cloud?

To discuss these and related issues, the conference has gathered together delegates from institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rutgers, Institute Marcel Mauss, Paris, TU Delft, and the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

“We have a choice about how we build and regulate the cloud,” said Dr Alex Oliver, from Cambridge’s Faculty of Philosophy. “The aim of the event is to initiate a new discussion on how the internet and cloud computing is changing business and personal relationships in the cloud era.”

The public lecture this evening will be given by Dr David D. Clark, Senior Research Scientist, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT, at 6pm. Tomorrow’s lecture will be by Professor Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology, University of Ottawa, at 5pm. Both lectures will be held in the McCrum Lecture Theatre, Corpus Christi, Cambridge.

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