Sun Microsystems had a campaign when thin clients were all the rage (back in the late '90s) saying: "The network is the computer." No-one believed them then (and their Java Client machine, which I saw a demo of during SIGIR'98 in Melbourne, tanked spectacularly). But they're being proven right: more and more data is stored on the internet. This post will be stored on a server, of which I don't even know the precise location. You will read it via wires and switches that you don't know about -- and no-one cares about those details, really.
The internet has become one large 'cloud' (to borrow a buzz-word): on the other end of my router is 'the internet', which is more and more becoming a single system for storing, serving and manipulating data.
The thin client has made a spectacular come-back too. What with virtualisation: you can have one really large server in a rack somewhere with a virtual machine for every employee. Via a remote desktop connection, you can have really simple and cheap machines on the desktop, with all the actual work being done elsewhere.
So, basically, Watson was off by four: we only need one computer. An interesting insight that I read in a short interview from Wired with Nicholas Carr.
He also has some interesting things to say about what it all does with our privacy:
- "People say they're nervous about storing personal info online, but they do it all the time, sacrificing privacy to save time and money."
- "Computers are technologies of liberation, but they're also technologies of control. It's great that everyone is empowered to write blogs, upload videos to YouTube, and promote themselves on Facebook. But as systems become more centralized — as personal data becomes more exposed and data-mining software grows in sophistication — the interests of control will gain the upper hand. If you're looking to monitor and manipulate people, you couldn't design a better machine."
Read it. It's short, but it makes some very interesting points. And keep those points in mind when the next surveillance technique comes along under the guise of combatting child porn or terrorism.
The world is becoming more and more like a cyberpunk novel: a system of control is being built, and if you're part of the system, you don't have privacy or rights -- you are allowed to work for a minimum wage and to consume. You're pacified with dumb TV shows about people who are even dumber than you. You're being catalogued, datamined, marketed to, having your every move scrutinised -- from cradle to grave.
And the internet is making it happen. If only it wasn't so damn convenient.