Lifted by the Cloud


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Lifted by the Cloud is a vision of cloud-based accessibility presentation by Wayne Caswell as part of a contest sponsored by the FCC, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and Raising the Floor. It’s based on the author’s 2006 presentation on BIG Broadband and Gigabit-to-the-Home.

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Lifted by the Cloud

  1. 1. Lifted by the Cloud – Presentation ScriptThis presentation by Wayne Caswell was submitted as part of a contest sponsored by the FederalCommunications Commission, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, and Raising the Floor,located on the web at“Lifted by the Cloud” is presented as a vision of BIG Broadband and Cloud-based Accessibility. It’s basedon the author’s 2006 presentation on Fiber Optics and Gigabit-to-the-Home, his experience as atechnologist and futurist, and his vision of "Consumers with Easy access to services and service providerswith Equal access to consumers."The narrated video is at, and the PowerPoint slides and PDFscript with additional background info are available at conferencing is a great way to keep in touch with office workers on one hand and grandchildren,elderly parents, or caregivers on the other. The technology is available today and rapidly improving asnetworks get faster.PC-based products like Skype, Google Chat, iChat, and FaceTime are free if you already have abroadband-connected PC with a webcam and speakers. High-def telepresence on TV comes withconsumer products like Microsoft Xbox 360 with Kinect and Logitech Revue with TV Cam. There are alsoconsumer versions of enterprise systems from companies like Cisco, Polycom, and LifesizeCommunication. And then there are the portable smart phones & tables, including iPhone4 and iPad2.The choices are confusing because each has certain advantages, and the different products don’t alwayscommunicate with each other. So how do we solve this interoperability problem so one device canconnect with family, healthcare providers, and employers who may each be on different systems? Alogical solution is with bridging technology in the network Cloud. Using a remote service to do that givesthe user flexibility to pick the solution that best fits their needs, not the one dictated by someone else.The resolution of a high-def TV may be ideal for someone who’s deaf and relies on signing and lip-reading. An iPhone4 or iPad2 is useful when your doctor says, “Show me where it hurts.” You can justpoint the camera at the exact spot. And if there’s a need for multi-user conferencing so a patient, familyadvocate, caregiver, and physician all be on the call at once, cloud services like VuRoom support that.TeleworkWhen telepresence is part of a Telework program, employers can hire the best candidates withoutuprooting them and their family, and unemployed or mobility challenged knowledge workers can seeknew employment anywhere. Employers find that Telework supports people with disabilities that limitmobility and moms who want to work from home. They also notice increased worker productivity andreduced office expenses. And cities have noticed a reduction in rush hour traffic, pollution, and wearand tear on roads, among other benefits.TelemedicineHealthcare costs are rising faster than inflation and will get worse as baby boomers retire and unlesssomething drastic is done in the field of telemedicine. Telepresence, for example, gives someone with
  2. 2. limited mobility or in a remote region access to big city medical services, but there are many otherhealth benefits of cloud computing.Both Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault let Mom manage her entire family’s medical recordsonline in a secure vault that includes information about insurance, important contacts, prescriptiondrugs, shot records, baseline vital signs, and even a history of sensor readings. All of that is availableanywhere and on any device when needed, such as in an out-of-town emergency.Advancements in new medical devices and services are evolving daily, but how are we to discover andevaluate them? That’s the role of a new online community, Modern Health Talk, which connects peoplewith technologies for home healthcare. Like many other cloud-based services, it relies on social mediaand a community willing to share personal stories, experiences and advice.Distance LearningCloud computing can help reform the entire education system, from pre-kindergarten through collegeand life-long learning. It can give young students access to the best teachers and course materialelectronically, in ways that engage them and lets them learn at their own pace. Imagine taking trumpetlessons from Winton Marsalis himself or participating in a music ensemble where each musician is in adifferent city. For adults facing many career changes during their working life, the Internet cloud givesthem new opportunities with the ability to learn new skills for a new job while still working at the oldone. And for people with disabilities, cloud-based services make it easier to adapt course material to theneeds of the student without forcing them into a special school.Cloud computing can help reform the education system, from pre-K through college and life-longlearning. Young students can learn at their own pace while accessing great teachers and course material.Adults can develop skills for new job opportunities while still working at the old job. And course materialmaterials can be adapted for special needs.CollaborationSharing documents with team members through email is so… old school. It’s also less secure thancollaborating online and working from the same master copy. That vision is real today with Google Apps,a collection of cloud-based applications. Social media and other apps that bring groups of likemindedpeople together online can give people new hope, inspiration and purpose so they can find the best wayto contribute to society.Universal DesignTechnology products for niche markets almost always cost more than mass market products, becausedevelopment serves fewer customers. So it makes more sense to design products for everyoneuniversally and incorporate different user interfaces for different needs.Developers are starting to design products with flexibility to interact in different ways, including typing,pointing or gesturing, speaking, and even thinking. Even the popular iPhone, with its black touch screen,can be used by a blind person, thanks to the flexibility of also using speech commands and gestures.Some products can also anticipate user needs and function automatically, whether based on a set ofpredefined rules or through intelligent agents. A truly “smart” home, for example, would includeartificial intelligence and an army of distributed sensors, cameras, and microphones that give the home
  3. 3. a sense of what’s going on in the environment, the ability to learn and act on behalf of the occupants,and the ability to carry on a natural language conversation.But if you lived in a smart home, what would happen if you moved? All that learned “knowledge” ofyour preferences would be lost – unless the knowledge is stored remotely in the Cloud.Parallel ProcessingOne view of cloud computing has many users sharing the resources of a single application server.Another view is to combine the resources of many PCs into a grid with the combined processing powerof a supercomputer. Consumers can already share the capacity of their otherwise-idle PCs across high-speed networks to enable a World Community Grid. Parallel processing is then used to split complextasks into small pieces that can be processed simultaneously on thousands of personal computers toaddress complex applications such as predicting the effect of global warming, fighting HIV & AIDS, anddetecting extraterrestrial intelligence through analysis of radio telescope data.Personal TelevisionBroadcast television works well when a large demographic all watching the same content, but the on-demand model is enabling mass personalization and user-generated content posted on sites likeYouTube. But with so much video content being generated, how will we find what’s meaningful to usand absorb it?Google, which already searches text, can adapt to search video with closed captioning and take users tospecific frames in the video where search terms are mentioned. But user-generated content doesn’thave captioning. So why not use speech recognition to automatically add it?TranscodingIt makes little sense to create, store and manage different video formats for phones, standard definitionand high-def TVs, as well as the ultra-high-def, 3D, and holographic displays of the future. Transcoding isa solution that converts between different formats automatically, usually as part of a cloud-basedservice.Third Wave ComputingAs more apps move from PCs to Internet services over high-speed lines, there’s less need for local drivesexcept as a buffer. Data stored in trusted services becomes accessible anywhere, from any device, andcan be shared securely with anyone you authorize. It’s like the PC itself is exploding into the cloud whereusers no longer have to worry about software maintenance, security, anti-virus protection, and databackups. All that’s left for them to worry about is the user interface, and that can be made flexibleenough for any special needs.
  4. 4. Lifted By The Cloud – Backup MaterialWhat is the Cloud?Cloud computing is a new buzz word derived from the cloud image that’s used to represent the Internetand services running on remote servers. All you really need is a good web browser and access to theInternet. You no longer have to install and maintain all of the software and data on your own computersystem but can rely on a trusted service for that.The concept of using network-based services rather than PC-based applications is driven largely by bigcorporate players like AT&T, Verizon, IBM, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. But it’s just another form ofdistributed computing, enabled by technology trends, where network bandwidth capacity, or speed, isgetting cheaper faster than storage, and storage is getting cheaper faster than computing.Cloud computing adds a new layer – services – to the Internet collection of data pipes, routers, serversand networks. Behind the services are computing resources and companies we trust to manage the datafor us. We don’t necessarily care about how it’s implemented or what technologies are used or how it’smanaged. We only care that we have access to it and that it meets our reliability and security needs.The key word here is “trust.” To be successful, cloud services must be trustworthy.We all use some form of distributed/cloud computing every time we access the Internet – to makeairline and hotel reservations, buy stocks, read and respond to news stories and blogs online, useFacebook or Twitter, share photos, watch videos on YouTube, etc. Each time we give up some personalinformation in exchange for a benefit. We don’t often think or care much about what’s going on outthere in the cloud except that we want to reliably and securely do stuff and share stuff.Alternative VisionsIs Cloud Computing a good thing or bad? Will I benefit personally? Will my family or company? Willsociety? It all depends, and in many ways it’s up to us.Futurists consider alternative visions of future events based on different assumptions and possiblescenarios. By understanding these possibilities and factors leading toward each, it’s easier to choose apreferred future outcome and make plans to achieve it.The Current Path Looks DarkThe path we’re currently on is driven by private industry profit motives, market-driven requirements,and a political climate that favors big corporations over ordinary citizens. It’s a path where shareholdersdemand that investments be financially justified in business terms such as profit margin, return oninvestment, and payback period. It also sees big telecom companies as having a natural incentive tobuild only enough network capacity to satisfy the bandwidth needs of the most popular and profitableapplications. They want their own apps to have a competitive advantage over those of competitors, andbandwidth-intensive apps that don’t generate enough revenue are considered wasteful. So, they imposelimits over how much network capacity any one person, organization or application can use.Along this dark path, network operators redline markets to serve profitable customers while ignoringothers. The underserved are stuck in the network slow lane with less access to education, jobs, influenceover government, and opportunity. Just as with individuals, entire communities stuck in the slow lane
  5. 5. are doomed and will eventually die off, unable to compete with those having greater opportunities inthe fast lane. That’s because business migrates to towns and nations with the best infrastructure,including broadband infrastructure for cloud computing services.What does our world look like with ten more years along our current path?The FCC’s National Broadband Plan sets a 10-year objective of 100 megabits per second, but othernations are planning for gigabit speeds and some have it already. With the FCC mandate, broadbandspeeds will continue to rise and prices will continue to fall, just not as rapidly as in other nations withmore robust competition. Ultimately, it means we will continue to lose our competitive edge ineducation, technology and business in a global economy, and the Digital Divide will widen considerably.Congress will eventually be forced to address a worsening condition as social unrest increases andvoters rebel. But why wait?The Alternative Looks BrightIt’s nice to be able to invent an alternative future, and I chose one where our leaders encourageinnovation by investing in broadband infrastructure – public networks with no limits. As a society we canview such investments differently than private, for-profit corporations. Because politicians answer tovoters and not shareholders, at least theoretically, they can justify investments that take longer todeliver benefits and can measure success in non-business terms such as increased economicdevelopment, jobs creation, graduation rates, affordable healthcare, and national security.Public networks can be installed along with other public works projects such as widening roads or fixingsewer systems, thus reducing costs and eliminating much of the worry that private network operatorshave with obtaining rights of way. By giving independent service providers open access to the publicnetworks, we can eliminate redundant overbuilds and increase competition. ISPs won’t have to installand manage their own physical plant but can simply connect their electronics to public networks.The Public alternative supports a vision of BIG Broadband at gigabit speeds with no incentive to throttlebandwidth usage. Such a vison addresses today’s Chicken versus Egg dilemma, where many innovativeapps can’t even be developed without enough widely deployed network capacity. Many municipalitieshave installed fiber networks to homes and businesses, and some already have the ability to delivergigabit speeds. There’s no reason why every American home can’t be connected that way. Simplyinvesting in open-access broadband infrastructure would give service providers equal access tocustomers, and give consumers easy access to a wide range of competitive services.Author BIOWayne Caswell is Founder and Senior Editor of Modern Health Talk, an online (i.e. Cloud-based)community that connects people with technologies for home healthcare, aging in place, and personswith disabilities. He’s a computer technologist and marketing consultant with over 40 years ofexperience at IBM, Dell, Siemens and CAZITech, a consulting firm that he founded to focus on DigitalHome and Broadband Internet solutions.Wayne is a past member of FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, where he served on Technology,Homeland Security, and Underserved Communities working groups. He has lobbied for the rights ofmunicipalities to install public, open-access broadband networks that support Cloud Computingconcepts and has held leadership positions in various industry standards groups. Find more