In the new issue of Wired, Kevin Kelly has written another one of his patented mind grenades: the observation that the Internet has now hit approximate computational equivalence to a single human brain:
A hyperlink is much like a synapse in the brain. Both work by making associations between nodes. Each unit of thinking in the brain — an idea, for example — grows by gaining links to other thoughts. The greater the number of synapses connecting to an idea, the stronger it becomes. Similarly, the more heavily linked a Web node is, the greater its value to the Machine. Moreover, the number of hyperlinks in the World Wide Web is approaching that of synapses in the human brain. But the Machine contains a million times more transistors than you have neurons in your head. And, unlike your brain, it's growing at a rate that outpaces Moore's law. By 2040, the planetary computer will attain as much processing power as all 7 billion human brains on Earth.
The full piece is here, along with a nifty animated version of the fold-out graphic that's running in the print magazine. But it's just a hint of where Kevin's going as he contemplates the increasing ability to treat the world's computational resources as one, what's often called ubiquitous cloud computing. Among the most radical implications of this is how we consider the new landscape of globalization in an age where anything digital can theoretically be done anywhere. How do we decide where?
In a post today, he describes three strategies:
Follow the Sun: As one time zone wakes up for another day of commerce and entertainment, the peak activities will migrate around the planet in a wave that follows the sun. While California crunches, India sleeps. And vice versa. Here the maximum computation and energy needs will be found nearest to the time zone in the sun.
Follow the Moon: If the costs and latencies of communication are smaller than computation, then the many huge data centers can be placed where energy costs are least. And no matter where they are, their loads will ordinarily be less at night. So India crunches to keep California awake. And vice versa. Therefore the least expensive computation will be a wave flowing around the globe at night, or following the moon.
Follow the Law: Perhaps neither energy nor communication costs will be the gating factor in the One Machine; rather it may be law. Differences in privacy laws, censorship, and national security fears may restrict places where data can flow freely. In that case computation will have to hopscotch around the world following the law.
Most likely different industries adopt a different scenario. Maybe financial follows the moon, while commerce follows the sun, and entertainment follows the law. A single computing environment (One Machine) should not suggest homogeneity. A meadow is not homogeneous, but its does act as a coherent ecological system.
To that legal point, I was recently chatting in Seattle with a guy who runs the largest collection of server farms in North America outside of Google--he actually owns many of the facilities that Amazon's EC2 service and Microsoft's cloud computing initiatives are running on. Like everyone in that business these days, he's all about finding cheaper electricity. But although his facilities are all in the Pacific Northwest, using clean and relatively cheap hydro power, he hasn't crossed the border into Canada, where the hydro power is even more plentiful.
Why not? Because of political instability. Canada's governments shift from right to left too often, he said, and the threat of regional secession was too real to risk putting multi-hundred-million-dollar data facilities there--between changes in the laws to even the slight risk of nationalization should the wrong person be elected, he thought Canada's political liabilities outweighed its energy assets. Surprised? I was. But right or wrong, that's the sort of calculus that's required in the new era of global data. Anything can be anywhere. Where do you want to go today?