For all of the information collected throughout a person's life to be useful, it must be searchable. To what extent can different types of data (documents, audio, video, etcetera) be easily searched?
It is getting better every year. All photos are evolving to be tagged based on geography and time, which helps systems identify them. Printed documents have been searchable for a decade, although I don't believe that handwritten documents are being worked on yet. Video is related to pictures and is being addressed.
You've been paperless for over a decade. How easy is it for you to sift through all of this information to find what you are looking for?
Rarely do I ever give up on finding an item, whether it is a photo, e-mail or document. Those files are always with me and I can work anywhere.
Data breaches have become commonplace, with businesses exposing personal information as a result of cyber attacks or lost laptops. What do you say to people who are concerned about security and privacy as the world increasingly goes digital?
Well, we have two cases: data is on a local computer or held in the cloud. Anyone who has corporate or institutional data on a local computer really must encrypt their disks in case someone steals a system. This capability is built into Windows. People can protect their personal computers to varying degrees by physical isolation including local data servers and external hard drives. We continually work on making PCs connected to the Web harder to penetrate, especially to access by attacks. Staying off the Web is ideal, basically the idea behind firewalls that we all use. For those who store everything in the cloud, I know of no examples of a major attack where everyone's data is exposed, but it may come.
Amazon recently experienced extended downtime to servers that enable many of the company's customers to engage in cloud computing. Should this serve as a note of caution to anyone considering the outsourcing of all their data and software to a service provider?
I don't think the outage will affect the adoption of cloud computing. Many of Amazon's customers may have been affected, but this is probably the same amount as it would have been if you summed up the downtime incurred across all the separate systems that had operated independently. The outage will undoubtedly affect how [future] applications are designed.
What is next for cloud computing?
It will just continue to grow with more capabilities and scope. I would like to think that science will eventually get with the program that we tried to outline in the 2005 book The Fourth Paradigm. How about for science we start to work on what the industrial world has started, building on the massive investment and inevitable cost declines that will accompany economy of scale? The next stage will see sensor data being fed continuously to the cloud, pretty much in the same fashion mobile users interact today.