Day Two Cloud 083: Should Cloud Be A Public Utility?

Well? Should it? This was a tremendous episode with Dwayne Monroe where we discussed the concept of a public cloud available as a utility or at least a public offering for educational institutions and lower income folks. We had a good debate, especially over whether the government is capable of successfully executing and managing such a project given all the bureaucracy that tends to cruft over most well-intentioned government programs.

For me, the key question here is whether we think that access to computational resources is a fundamental right. Twenty years ago that would seem like a ludicrous question, but now? Given how much of our life is lived online (especially with the pandemic), it doesn’t seem nearly as inconceivable. Think about all the things you do online that make your life simpler. For instance, you can pay your bills, search for a job, apply for government assistance, learn a new skill, and interact with peers. Can you get by in life without an internet connection and a computer? Yes. Could you also live in a cave without running water or electricity? Sure. But I don’t think you would be a contributing member of society.

And that is probably what we’re actually talking about here. At some point, almost every country decided that it was in the public interest to provide free public education to our youth. Providing a public education makes our society better as a whole; it’s a public good that provides tangible benefits in the future. Many nations have also decided that providing basic healthcare for the populace is also a net positive with benefits to society as a whole. Same thing with public parks, libraries, and other institutions. Universal basic access to the internet also seems like it should be a public good, and I would even extend that to low-cost cloud computing as well. If we want people in society to make meaningful contributions, then I believe that access to the internet and cloud computing key components.

The major advancements in technology are going to happen through the internet and cloud computing. The more folks we have involved, the more rapid and varied the advancements. A good analogy is the music industry. At the start of the 20th century, access to record and distribute music was limited. Music evolved slowly, with a deep focus on tradition. As access to recording technology improved, and the advent of the radio increased distribution, we saw an explosion of new genres. There were still gatekeepers in the form of record companies and radio stations. At the beginning of the 21st century, the cost of recording music plummeted with complex tools available to anyone with a computer. Likewise, the internet provided a distribution platform that almost destroyed the recording industry. They’ve recovered with the advent of paid streaming, but the point is you can now create, collaborate, and publish music available to billions of people for almost no cost.

The result? An explosion of new music and artists. I cannot overstate how much music is out there, and how many new genres have been invented in the last 20 years. The diversity of music, the pace of innovation, and the absolutely amazing talent of “untrained” individuals is staggering. And this is a direct result of democratizing the music industry and tools. Imagine if we do the same thing for machine learning, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, or any other emerging technology. Democratizing technology will be a net positive for the future of humanity, and that seems worthwhile to me.

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