The Great CEO Search is over, and Satya Nadella is now M$’s newest leader.
If he can be said to be anything, it is that he is Microsoft’s Cloud Guy. In other words, he runs the vast server farms and the processes that run on them and enable them, and he apparently was selected in large part because of that experience and expertise.
Oh, sure, Cloud (in the form of Azure and other technologies) has been one of the fastest growing, and most profitable, segments of M$ for years. Microsoft apparently views that as being the road forward for them for at least the next decade and, you know what? That’s probably right.
Bottom line: Over that time, everything will move to the cloud, and hardware will become primarily nothing more than various remotes able to use the capabilities of the Cloud in innumerable ways. Think of it as the mainframe/thin-client relationship updated by thirty years of the inexorable action of Moore’s Law.
Why is this move inevitable? Because of the vastly greater processing power available in the Cloud. This advantage permits Cloud-based computing to do much more, and do it better, than anything available to those who limit themselves to the abiities of individual machines – and yes, that holds true even in an era when the best smartphones boast more processing power than the supercomputers of thirty years ago.
The Cloud will eventually become the ambiance that binds the technological world together – and if true self-aware digital intelligence appears, my bet is that it will first arise in the Cloud. We are in the early stages of constructing that all-encompassing environment, and only a few have the vision to see where it may be headed and, consequently, may be taking us. Science fiction writers get paid to think about stuff like this. We don’t always get it right – in fact, we miss more often than we hit – but on the whole, we’ve been pretty good at seeing the bigger picture, especially in the near future. So, looking ahead, here are some of the possibilities over the next ten years:
Robust virtual reality. The Cloud will permit the use of the sort of processing power needed to duplicate, at least as far as sight and sound, what the human brain perceives of reality. It will also be where ever more powerful, capable, and portable hardware interfaces are designed that enable individuals to directly access that sort of VR. Beyond ten years, I look for the development of VR that engages all the senses in order to create seamless, undectable simulacra of reality.
Ubiquitous data and metadata: When you look into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you. Cloud computing/remote appliances enjoy a two-way relationship. That will only grow deeper and more pervasive in the future. Bluntly, privacy is dead. It’s dead for the individual, and, as governments are learning to their dismay, it’s rapidly dying for states as well. Look for states to move more and more in the direction of autonomous security systems as they try to free themselves of the untrustworthy human factor. The upside of this will be large and rapid advances in human healh, health care delivery, and healthy extensions of longevity. And here is something that a lot of people are going to be quite uncomfortable with: The primary objection to command economics has always been that no “commander” can ever equal the knowledge available to a free market with its billions and trillions of individual inputs and decisions.
Once upon a time billion was a big number. Then it became trillion. Today, the notion of processing trillions of inputs in real time seems only a matter of advancing another technological step or two. And when the “commanders” are equally as capable as the ubiquitous data-gatherinig, what then? Does a command economy then become practical? It may not be perfect, at least not at first, but I suspect we’re not all that far from “good enough.”
It might. But ubiquitous means ubiquitous, and if that sword is double-edged (most are) then vistas both wonderful and terrible open before our eyes. And ubiquitous data will be gathered, stored, manipulated, and promulgated within the Cloud.
At the moment, the Cloud is still taking shape. Think of it as an embryonic Interstate Highway System, or a continental rail system. It is the infrastructure of the Technogical Singularity, and we are building its foundations today. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, and others are racing to pour as much concrete as they possible can, because all of them are highly aware that the most wealth and power will accrue to those who own and control the most of the highway system. Think “toll roads” in that context.
Of course, this leaves out of the equation one of the most important aspects: bandwidth. In order for the Cloud to work, it must be connected to the hardware that allows it to communicate with the real world – the billions, and soon trillions of devices both mobile and embedded though which it dispenses processing power, and collects information. I’ve often said that the next “human right,” akin to food, water, shelter, and air, will be bandwidth. I think we’re closer than ever to reaching that point.
So. Virtual reality, digital socialism, ubiqitous data, and bandwidth. That’s enough for today, I think. I wouldn’t want SteveF to suffer an attack of TMIDR (although I suspect I’ve already managed that).
BTW, I’m going to try to get in a longer-form blog post every day or so. You can always skip them if you want.