By: Tom Koulopoulos
If you were asked to identify the single greatest phenomenon contributing to global growth, prosperity, and social and political change over the past two hundred years, what would you choose? Perhaps it’s the acceleration of technology, or maybe it’s improvements in health care, pharmaceuticals, transportation, telecommunications, globalization, or education. Yet one phenomenon underlies all of these changes, and it is the same one that will allow us to keep pace with increasing rates of uncertainty and complexity in the future. It is the dramatic increase in connections.
This is not just an increase in person-to-person connections, such as those created through telecommunications or social media such as e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter, it is an increase in connections between virtually every machine, device, process, and person; there exists an intricate and immensely complex mesh of unimagined scale and reach that we have only just begun to appreciate.
While the number of connections between people is increasing as the world’s population increases, from five billion connections in 2011 to a projected seven billion in 2020, the number of machine-to-machine connections dwarfs this, projected to grow from one hundred million in 2011 to fifty billion by 2020. A simple tally of the number of people-to-people connections, machine-to-machine connections, and people-to-machine connections will likely reach seventy billion by 2020. Coincidentally, this approaches the hundred billion neurons in the human brain. Keep in mind that even the 70 billion connections shown here are extremely conservative since it assumes only one connection from category person-to-person(population), person-to-machine(human connections), and machine-to-machine (machine connections). The reality will be orders of magnitude higher, with the potential for 4,900,000,000,000,000,000,000 connections.
Until now, what we have experienced are increases in connections that are separate, localized, and segregated. But what if all of these segregated connections were suddenly part of a single, interconnected whole that worked in harmony? Today that strikes chords of fear in most of us as we imagine the threat that such a coordinated body of information could pose to our security, identity, and intellectual property.
For example, imagine that all the information about you—your personal history, data about your behaviors and experiences, and your communications, whether by phone, e-mail, chat, or social networks—was combined in a way that captured the essence of who you are and what you do, and even what you might do. What if all of this information was connected, and was reliably and instantly available? Frightening? Of course it would be, in the context of today’s world, which is the equivalent of the World Wild West when it comes to the way these connections are handled, or, more to the point, mishandled.
But what if the context changed? What if this chaos were tamed in such a way that it offered a nearly unlimited amount of value, both to you as an individual and to businesses? What if all the fears you have today about the way in which the Internet can create risk were eliminated, while all the ways that the Internet creates value were increased? What if there were new opportunities for you to work in ways that are financially, professionally, and personally more satisfying? What would that tomorrow look like and how would you surf this vast tsunami of connections to get the most out of them, rather than be swept away by them?
So what is the cloud?
Let’s keep it simple for now: the cloud creates intelligence through connections.
But before we go any further with what the cloud is, let’s talk about what the cloud is not.
First of all, the cloud is not a synonym for the Internet. While the cloud relies on the Internet as one method of connecting people, machines, and information, it extends well beyond the Internet to mobile devices, sensors, radio, satellite, and other forms of connective technology. A simple way to compare the cloud and the Internet is to think in terms of evolution. The Internet is single-cell amoebas, plankton, and the most rudimentary forms of life that crawled out of the primordial soup. The cloud, however, is complex forms of life, with brains and nervous systems that can sense and respond autonomously to the world around them, even to very complicated and unpredictable situations.
If you think back to the vast increase in the number of connections shown in figure I there is a significance to the total number of connections projected for 2020, seventy billion. The human mind is estimated to have between fifty billion and two hundred billion neurons, with most experts agreeing that there are about a hundred billion. The coincidence is more than just interesting. While I’m not claiming that the cloud will be as intelligent as a human, at least not by 2020, the dramatic increase in the number of connections certainly points to how radically different living and working in the cloud will be as compared with the Internet.
Because the cloud is constantly changing and evolving, it’s tough to pin down an accurate definition for long, but for our purposes we’ll use the following: the cloud is an evolving, intelligent, infinitely scalable, always available, real-time collection of technology, content, and human resources that can be accessed as and when needed. That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down into each of the cloud’s major parts. We’ll talk much more about all of these throughout the book, but a basic foundation at this point is critical, especially if you are just learning about the cloud.
The cloud is:
- Evolving and intelligent
- Infinitely scalable
- Always available in real time
- An integration of technology, content, and human resources
Evolving and Intelligent
The cloud is not just a network of connected computers and storage devices, what is often called cloud computing. That’s only the foundation that the cloud is built on. The intelligence in the cloud allows it to have an awareness of and an ability to instantly connect to the correct technology, content, and human resources that best meet your needs. For example, if you want to use the cloud to do sophisticated work on a project involving chemistry, the cloud knows about your preferences and capabilities and matches you with the software, hardware, and people best suited to the specific task.
The cloud is also constantly evolving to take the shape of the organizational, social, and political context that it inhabits. In the same way that intelligent life evolved to adapt to a changing ecosystem, the cloud will evolve as our needs and the complexity of our problems evolve – ultimately providing a collective and connected intelligence to usher in the next era of global growth, prosperity, social and political change.