Apr 072015

Is the cloud the ultimate centralised ICT architecture?” was one of the questions posed by Norberto Patrignani, chair of the new IFIP domain committee on cloud computing at a one-day workshop on the challenges of virtuality and the cloud: the implications of social accountability and professional ethics(1).

This workshop took place on Monday 23rd February 2015. Co-organised by IFIP’s working group on social accountability and ICT, the special interest group on the framework for ethics, and the BCS ICT ethics specialist group, it was held at Middlesex University with the support of The Castlegate Consultancy.

Twenty attendees debated and discussed a variety of critical issues: How do we frame the debate on the cloud? What will life be like in the cloud? Do we “have our heads in the cloud(s)”? How is Big Brother affecting travel?

Speakers came from a range of universities, research institutions, and small- and medium-sized companies. They included: Don Gotterbarn (ACM); Denise Oram (Glyndwr University); Anna Vartapetiance (Surrey University); Brandt Dainow (Maynooth University); Juana Sancho-Gil (University of Barcelona); Malgorzata Plotka (Poland-Japan Institute). Participants came from as far afield as Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Middle East, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, and the USA. Around half were more local, and came from different parts of the UK. Clearly, a larger workshop or conference could attract more speakers or attendees from even further afield.

The day ended with a round table on potential priority actions. An association like IFIP could, for example, concentrate on exploring this kind of debate in the context of the upcoming World Summit on Information Society in May 2015 (http://www.itu.int/net4/wsis/forum/2015/), and include a range of developed and developing countries in the discussions. The IFIP cloud computing domain committee could work with different technical committees, working groups, special interest groups, projects and initiatives both within IFIP and outside of IFIP to ensure that all the relevant aspects of the cloud are properly considered.

Rather than having our “heads in the cloud”, and being immediately seduced by the economic and organisational ease of cloud services, don’t we also need to understand its societal, environmental and ethical implications? This topic will be explored further by IFIP, and by other presenters at the September 2015 ETHICOMP conference: http://www.dmu.ac.uk/research/research-faculties-and-institutes/technology/centre-for-computing-and-social-responsibility/ethicomp2015.aspx.

(1) More information on these ideas is available in a first report of the committee forwarded to the IFIP president in November 2014.

In front of the globe, discussing the cloud.

In front of the globe, discussing the cloud.