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Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth: Computing as if Infrastructure Mattered.

Jean-François Blanchette,UCLA
Oct 27, 2016 from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM (America/Los_Angeles / UTC-700)
1130 K Street, Room LL3
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"Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth: Computing as if Infrastructure Mattered."

Associate Professor Jean-François Blanchette - UCLA Department of Information Studies.

One way to define the Cloud is as the moment where computing has become, both materiality and symbolically, infrastructure, that is, a socio-technical system that has become ubiquitous, essential, and foundational. As infrastructure then, the Cloud necessarily becomes the focus of a series of policy concerns that deal with issues of market regulation, fairness, universal access, reliability, criticality, national security, sharing of limited resources, congestion, inter-network competition, national economic welfare, capacity planning, monopoly, antitrust, etc. These issues and debates are familiar, as they have featured in every type of energy, transportation, and communication network deployed before. The Cloud is however distinctive as a kind of meta-infrastructure: its capacity for real-time measurement and statistical analysis of supply and demand is making it integral to the functioning of a large number of other infrastructures, including energy (smart grids), financial services, airports, the upcoming driverless cars, and even the Cloud itself.

As infrastructure, the Cloud is also distinctive because its development and evolution is structured by a core design technique of computing systems, that of modularity and layering of functional components.
In this presentation, I tease out the implications for governance of the historical development of modular systems. I illustrate that the very structure of modular architectures implies that early-stage design choices persist, often with unforeseen consequences, and become increasingly difficult to correct as the infrastructure become ubiquitous, its functionality expands, and the nature of the traffic it services evolves. Blanchette PhotoI argue that familiarity with these historical developments is essential to understanding current policy debates, insofar as they illustrate the constraints on the Cloud’s future evolution.

Jean-François Blanchette is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. He has been researching issues relative to electronic authenticity, computerization of bureaucracies, and the evolution of the computing infrastructure for the past 15 years. He is the author of Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents (MIT Press, 2012) and co-editor of Regulating the Cloud: Policy for Computing Infrastructure (MIT Press, 2015). He is currently completing a manuscript on the evolutionary dynamics of the computing infrastructure entitled: Running on Bare Metal: A Material History of Bits.


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