Thinking out loud here…

Chat last night on Twitter about cloud computing, the definition having been recently updated on Wikipedia by @bobgourley.  One gentle challenge was offered by @lewisshepherd:  By the simpler definition, a print server would be deemed cloud computing – is that what is meant?  

At one level, it is not altogether useful to have such broad definitions that the reader is unable to move from the definition to understanding what LinkedIn and Amazon Web Services have in common.  However, as a “specialist of the whole,” I was immediately seduced by the simplicity.  If a user can use distant computers to process local jobs, she is working with cloud computing.  (Cloud computering?)

Take this to another level.  In a most excellent book, Natural Born Cyborgs, Andy Clark wrote that we started offloading cognitive processes when we put on wristwatches.  When someone asks you if you have the time, you say yes – because you know you can look at the watch to get the current time. You likely don’t know it without checking, this may be why you’re asked if you “have” the time, rather than if you “know” the time.  

If someone asks for your phone number, you retrieve it from the wonderful wetware behind your eyes. (Some of us of a certain age eventually lose this information, “I don’t know, I never call it!”)

So what is the difference between looking up your phone number in your brain and checking your wristwatch?  Probably the reliance on previously unrelated variables – if the silly watch battery dies, I suddenly don’t know the time.

Somewhere around 1000 B.C., I suspect cave folk knew it was cold by walking outside and seeing the ice form.  Around 1617, the first thermoscopes were used to compare temperature changes.  As a child, I saw mercury thermometers on the house to tell me when it was freezing.  This morning, the Bride checked weather.com to find out our (somewhat) local temperature is 14 degrees F.  At what stage did we offload cognitive processes to “know” the local temperature?

Andy Clark is right, we are already cyborgs to a degree.  We have always involved technology to help us offload cognitive tasks.  As we consider the various definitions for “cloud computing,” it may be useful to consider it as the next logical step in moving from the cave to the hive mind.

What?

Well, beyond technology – we have also used our social connections to better understand our environment.  “Is it cold out there” to “does anyone know any good new restaurants” is  logical progress.  One is shouted to your fellow cave-dweller, the other a question posed using social media.

So cloud cognition is the offloading of cognitive processes, but also the use of distributed sensors to better understand our habitat.  No man is an island, indeed.

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