The Cloud Under the Sea

Painting of Microsoft Datacenter Submerged in the Ocean

The "cloud" is submerged in the ocean.

In June 2018, Microsoft sank a datacenter off the coast off the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

"Datacenters are the backbone of the internet, the physical clouds of cloud computing where customers leverage economies of scale to securely store and process data, train machine learning models and run AI algorithms.”

The idea seems promising. The cold water at the bottom of the ocean cools the datacenter allowing it to work more efficiently. And with 40% of the world’s population living near the coast, the ability to deploy an efficient datacenter nearby could make it easier to provide computing power to many people.

The datacenter sparked many ideas. For one, it demonstrates how our virtual and physical worlds are combining. As these worlds combine, more of our physical life is being captured and recorded online.

So far, we have operated with a so-what attitude towards corporate surveillance. As we rely on computers to invade our lives, what risks do we endure?

Climate change can be used as an analogy to understand these privacy issues. In both cases, the aggregation of individual actions leads to societal harm.

Instead of a carbon footprint, we now leave a virtual footprint. Every action we take on the Internet is meticulously watched, recorded, and analyzed. Large corporations gather these points and consolidate their power, which increases the societal risk for large scale catastrophe.

The newest ploy to collect our data is personal home “assistants” like Amazon Alexa and other products in the Internet of Things. While these services may improve many aspects of our lives, what cost does it take to get “smarter?”

My painting approaches these issues in question form. One of which is "what does the analogy of the water cycle offer to the privacy conversation?"

In the painting, the clouds physically reflect each other: One cloud under the water and one cloud above. If the cloud is computing power, what is the rain? What are the other processes of the water cycle?

In my image, there is a storm going on at sea. Just as climate change will bring on more intense storms, privacy issues will as well.

My work is inspired by Trevor Paglen’s photo series on the cables that connect the internet, Marcus DeSieno “No Man's Land: Views From a Surveillance State,” and Banksy’s kitsch landscapes filled with CCTV camera as well as many thinkers, activists, and academics who work on privacy issues.

Photo by Trevor Paglen of Internet Cables Under the Ocean

Check out the photograph above by Trevor Paglen and the related article by Wired here.