Who Will Control the Swarm?

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September 26, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: September 26 on

The world is already well on its way to a day when innumerable autonomous cars and drones buzz about, shuffling commuters to work and packages to doorsteps. In fact, there is new term for it floating around the circles of engineers and venture capitalists who hope to see the day arrive sooner rather than later: They call it “The Swarm.” But this dramatic-sounding reality raises a critical question that has yet to be answered: Who will control the swarm? Some say control will be distributed. Each car and every drone will be its own self-sustaining unit – individually aware of its surroundings, individually directed where to go and individually outfitted with all the computational power to make it through the world efficiently and without accident. A collection of faculty at Stanford have a different view. They believe that device swarms will be managed centrally, using applications running in large datacenters, much the way the cloud centralized big data. The faculty members have formed a new laboratory at Stanford, called the Platform Lab, to develop infrastructure for these new “Big Control” applications.