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Smartphones, and more, are getting cloudy

Most apps today are making use of the cloud when heavy processing is required. In the coming years the cloud will move inside the smartphone. Image credit: modified from VectorStock

Processing is cheap, actually it is not! On the one hand we have seen a continuous decrease of processing cost but at the same time we have been increasing our (our applications) need for processing to the point that it made sense to create huge processing infrastructures that can be shared among many users to increase efficiency and decrease the cost to the user: welcome to the Cloud.

Some of the apps (as well as some of our smartphone functions) requires quite a bit of processing, particularly those using artificial intelligence, and they turn to the web to do the required processing. This works so well that in most situations we don’t notice that the processing is actually taking place far from our phone. As stated in the Wired article the smart of our smartphone comes from somewhere else.

This is all fine except that if the smartphone has to involve a third party for processing (the Cloud) it has to exchange data  and the third party, obviously, will get to know those data. Are you translating a text? Are you getting guidance on what to type in your messages? Analysing a photo to match it with a specific place? All of this and more is leaking (your) data from your phone raising privacy issues.

The improvement of chips’ capability, including the raise of chips designed to support machine learning, image recognition and other AI functionality is now making possible to do all the required number crunching inside your smartphone keeping data local.

Apple announced at the recent WWDC that Siri will be able to do its magic, like transcribing spoken text to written text without involving external processing, just leveraging on the smartphone chip. The previous month Google announced the Private Computer Core that can be used to perform machine learning locally.

The trend is clear: the Cloud(s) is permeating the edge and the devices themselves. In the near future our smartphones will include a cloud and the evolution towards cloud federation (see Gaia-X) will create a super-cloud in the edge (actually beyond the edge since it will be based on devices).

This is in synch with the current vision of devices creating the communications infrastructure, as envisaged by those looking at the next generation wireless network, 6g, where it is expected that federated hubs of data and intelligence will be crucial to create the communication fabric.

The Wired article makes for a very interesting reading explaining the progress in technology that increases the privacy control. However, it also points out that by forcing data to stay in the smartphone the big players are also making their own ecosystem more valuable, basically locking their customers into their business space. As long as I am happy with the services I receive all is fine. Yet, if and when I should become dissatisfied how much freedom will I have to move on to a different ecosystem?


About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.