Hey, you, get off of my cloud!

There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds – GK Chesterton

Larry Ellison (65) of Oracle told you so.  In the early 1990s he said that your data was safer in Oracle’s hands than in yours.

Joining up the cloud would be a small thin client called the Network Computer, not your clumsy desktop or a notebook with a battery life of less than two hours. Heck 15 years later if you get over two hours battery life out of a notebook you’ve paid a premium.

Today Microsoft will surrender to the mass movement to the cloud by introducing a version of its Office software that will run on “almost any device” and cost you $5 a month.

Compaq, later bought by HP, told you so as well. Data storage would be like any other utility.

Oracle had it right. Vast amounts of rich data, correspondence and applications sits in the nebulous cybersphere vulnerable to manipulation by marketeers and used for a purpose we know not

Facebook has turned into a kind of alternative internet, accumulating the likes and preferences of millions of people on the planet, even using face recognition technology if you’ll let it.

This whole, fragile egosystem is ruled by a small coterie of companies which, whether you like it or not, is unaccountable to anyone, despite the attempts by government to regulate it, usually after the fact.

Up in that cloud, data is being connected too – aggregate the Linkedins, the Facebooks, the Twitters and the Googles and a handful of these non accountable companies have data on two thirds of the six billion people that live on the planet.

No one knows quite how this is all going to pan out.  We’ve already entrusted vast amounts of our culture, of our infrastructure, our literature and our art to digital formats and if for any reason our civilisation was wiped out tomorrow, our descendants would have little clue of what we thought, of how we lived and how we loved.

Unless, that is, someone managed to re-invent the X86 microprocessor, build copies of Microsoft Windows and create PCs. The cloud would be a lot harder to reconstruct, even if future civilisations had the absurd notion that entrusting super calculators to record our data was the best way to preserve knowledge for our future great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren.

Down in the bowels of the British Museum lies a vast trove of clay tablets, the vast majority of them untranslated, and the legacy of Middle East civilisations which came and ultimately went.  The notion of progress is a somewhat new one. Victorian astronomers were astonished to find that the ephemerides of the Babylonians were more accurate than their own – knowledge can disappear just as quickly as it’s created. And in our arrogance we presume that we’re leagues ahead of the ancients in almost every sphere of knowledge, implying, against the evidence, that the human mind has changed that much in 4,000 years.

Even in my own lifetime, technological and medical advances have been many. I first learned sums at school in the 1950s using an abacus and for writing materials we started off using chalk and slates.

The point is that all of our technological advances in the space of 60 years are as vulnerable, perhaps more vulnerable than consigning knowledge to delicate books that will fade and crumble over time.  But a cloud is just vapour subject to weather conditions. Our memories, dreams and reflections are increasingly hosted on servers that can be anywhere in the world. There’s no solidity to the knowledge held in the cloud and we can only just, and with great difficulty, read data accumulated in the early days of our digital civilisation. Fifty years down the line, where will that data be?