Cloudbusters May 2014
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Cloud computing involves servers and computers that connect through a network. Often, this network is the internet; indeed, the term cloud has become a common metaphor for the internet. Cloud-based services are wholly dependent on the integrity of the internet itself. Revelations about the US National Security Agency's (NSA; Fort George G. Meade, Maryland) surveillance operations could prove damaging for large global cloud-services providers such as Amazon.com (Seattle, Washington) and Google (Mountain View, California).
Evidence for such a concern comes from Germany, where an increasing number of consumers are switching to German email providers to avoid servers and services based in the United States. United Internet's (Montabaur, Germany) GMX service is Germany's leading email provider. And Posteo (Berlin, Germany), which charges a fee for its email service but promises privacy and ad-free service, has experienced growth since the NSA's surveillance practices came to light. Until recently, well-known German blogger and commentator Sascha Lobo saw the internet as the ideal democratic medium. Lobo now claims that the internet is a medium of total control; he believes that the internet is kaput. If the internet fragments into national subnets that interact less frequently with the entire infrastructure, cloud-computing services will likely experience serious knock-on effects.
Cloud computing has accelerated the commercialization of voice-recognition systems. When users ask their smartphone a question, these systems—in particular, Apple's (Cupertino, California) Siri or Google's Google Now—send a compressed version of the conversation to a powerful server. Each conversation provides a little more data for the server-based system to analyze, thereby incrementally improving its performance. However, Intel (Santa Clara, California) has announced a new chip that is a dedicated natural-language processor and is small enough to fit into mobile devices. Although today's voice interfaces often require unnatural pauses (as the system sends data to and receives data from the cloud), Intel's chip could enable an extremely speedy interface because it does not have to transfer data to and from the cloud.