A Cloud for Global Good in San Jose


Earlier this month, Brad Smith announced the release of a new book from Microsoft entitled A Cloud for Global Good. As cloud technology becomes more ingrained in our economy, governments, and civil society, there is increasing opportunity to leverage this technology for tremendous global impact, including here in San Jose. And with this opportunity, there are also real risks and challenges that must be addressed. A Cloud for Global Good is a set of ideas—a playbook, if you will—for a path forward toward a cloud that is trusted, responsible, and inclusive and maximizes positive impact for our community.

So why is this relevant to San Jose? Here are a few ways that a trusted, responsible, and inclusive cloud matter in our community.

Trusted Cloud

As San Jose continues to build capacity and focus around data analytics and smart city projects, use of cloud technology will increase. Indeed, city hall already has already made significant investments in its cloud infrastructure. Increased cross-sector and cross-jurisdictional data sharing are also on the rise as we look to tackle some of our region’s most pressing urban challenges. The Internet of Things (IoT) creates new opportunity to leverage real-time information for strategic decision making. These innovations, investments, and partnerships hold tremendous promise to save taxpayer dollars, improve efficiency and service delivery, and facilitate innovation and economic development. But with them comes new risks from threats such as cybercrime and invasions of personal privacy. Ensuring legitimacy and community support for these nascent approaches to solving urban challenges requires establishing trust trough a responsible policy framework which balances the need to make sufficient use of information resources with maintaining security and personal privacy.

Responsible Cloud

Increasingly, cities are experimenting with new digital platforms for community engagement and service delivery which are built on cloud technology. San Jose’s new Office of Innovation and Digital Strategy will help lead this work in San Jose. Open data platforms, 311 systems, and digital options for obtaining permits and other services can make life easier for residents and foster increased civic participation and communication between government and the community—often, they are built on the cloud. They also create new avenues for fraud and exploitation. Applications of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning that use cloud computing to solve urban challenges and make life better for residents are also on the rise. With them come privacy and security risks, concerns over algorithmic equity and bias, and new labor challenges to ensure workers are not irresponsibly displaced with task automation and efficiency gains. Responsible policies will create opportunities to innovate and pilot new uses for these technologies while using forethought to mitigate risks and ensure ethical applications.

Inclusive Cloud

One of San Jose’s greatest assets is its diversity. A litany of different cultural perspectives and skillsets contribute deeply to the innovative spirit of San Jose. With this diversity also comes a wide spectrum of digital literacy and access to technology. Yet, digital literacy and access are critical to ensuring the entire community reaps the benefits of technology. Community engagement platforms that are used only in certain enclaves of the wider community can result in the development of misinformed public policy and inequitable distribution of public resources. Similarly, algorithmic bias is a real risk, particularly when those algorithms are ingesting data that is only representative of a few highly-engaged constituencies. Paramount to cultivating an inclusive cloud, then, is developing robust skillsets to use and interact with technology, elevating digital literacy, and encouraging civic participation. Widespread access to technology and internet must also be a priority. Shireen Santosham, San Jose’s Chief Innovation Officer, has written on this subject and is doing meaningful work in San Jose to close to the so-called digital divide.

San Jose has committed to becoming America’s most innovative city by 2020. Cloud storage and computing will be important components of the strategy; indeed, they already are. But a cloud that is trusted, responsible, and inclusive—a Cloud for Global Good—will help ensure the approach is sustainable, transparent, and enjoyed by all.