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We have seen that companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Google can be trusted with our personal information. It’s now time to show our trust in them by giving us complete control over computers, toasters, and cars.

Let me introduce you to edge computing.

Edge is a buzzword. Edge is a buzzword. It’s like “IoT”, “cloud” and others before it. However, I have been following industry experts on YouTube and listening to podcasts. Sometimes, I even read articles about the subject. I believe I have a useful definition of this buzzword technology and its possible applications.

What is EDGE COMPUTING?

There was One Big Computer in the beginning. In the Unix era, we were able to connect to this computer via dumb terminals. The next step was personal computers. This was the first time that regular people owned the hardware responsible for the work.

We are currently in the cloud computing age in 2018. While many of us still have personal computers, we use them mainly to access centralized services such as Dropbox, Gmail, and Office 365. Amazon Echo, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV use content and intelligence from the cloud, as opposed to the Little House on the Prairie DVD or Encarta CD-ROM copies that you may have enjoyed during the personal computing era.

Although it sounds centralized, the amazing thing about cloud computing is that a large proportion of companies around the world rely on the infrastructure, cloud hosting, machine learning, and compute power provided by a select few cloud providers, such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

Amazon, the largest by far of these “public cloud” providers (as opposed to the “private clouds” that companies like Apple, Facebook, and Dropbox host themselves) had 47 percent of the market in 2017.

Edge computing is a buzzword that you might pay attention to. These companies have realized that the cloud space is not growing fast enough. Nearly everything that can easily be centralized is centralized. The “edge” is where the majority of the opportunities for the cloud are located.

What is an edge, then?

In this context, the word edge means geographical distribution. Edge computing refers to computing that is done near or at the source of data rather than relying on a dozen data centers. This doesn’t mean that the cloud is going away. This means that the cloud is coming to your home.

Let’s not get bogged down in the definition game. We can actually see what people are actually trying to say when they extoll edge computing.

LATENCY

The speed of light is a great driver for edge computing. Computer A must ask Computer B half a world away before it can do anything. Computer A’s user perceives this delay to be latency. Speed of light is responsible for the brief time between clicking a link and your browser actually showing anything. Multiplayer games use many elaborate techniques to minimize the delay between shooting at someone and knowing that you have missed.

Voice assistants are required to respond to your requests via the cloud. The roundtrip time can often be quite noticeable. The Echo must process your speech and send it to the cloud as a compressed representation. After that, the cloud will process that representation and send it back to your Echo.

So, a recent rumor that Amazon is working on its own AI chips for Alexa should come as no surprise. Your Echo will rely less on the cloud if Amazon can perform more processing on your Echo device. This means that you will get faster replies and Amazon’s server costs will be lower. And, you might have more privacy if you do enough work locally if Amazon feels so generous.

SECURITY AND PRIVACY

Although it might seem strange to consider it that way, the privacy and security features on an iPhone are widely accepted as an example of edge computing. Apple can simply store biometric information and encryption on its device to offload a lot of security concerns from its centralized cloud to its diasporic users.

This feels more like edge computing than personal computing. The reason is that while the computation work is distributed, the definition and management of the computation work are centrally managed. Your iPhone was protected without you having to assemble the software, hardware, and security best practices. The cellphone store only charged $999 and it recognized your face.

Security is a huge concern for edge computing management. Think of how much pain and suffering consumers have experienced with poorly managed Internet of Things devices.

As @SwiftOnSecurity has famously stated:

That’s why Microsoft is working on Azure Sphere, which is a managed Linux OS, a certified microcontroller, and a cloud service. Your toaster should be just as hard to hack and centrally managed as your Xbox.

I don’t know if the IoT security solution that Microsoft has developed will be accepted by the industry, but I think it is safe to assume that the majority of hardware you purchase in the next few years will have its software automatically updated and centrally managed security. Your dishwasher and toaster will be part of a botnet that could endanger your life.

You don’t have to believe me. Just look at the success Google and Microsoft had in transitioning browsers to an “evergreen model”.

You could tell me what version of Windows you are running if you thought about it. Do you know what version of Chrome are you using? Edge computing will look more like Chrome than Windows.

BANDWIDTH

Edge computing is not just about security. It can also help with the IoT’s problems. Edge computing can also save bandwidth, which is a hot topic that I’ve seen a lot of edge advocates mention.

If you buy one security camera you can stream all its footage to the internet. You will have bandwidth problems if you purchase a dozen security cameras. If the cameras can save only the most important footage and discard the rest of the footage, then your internet pipes will be saved.

Nearly any technology that can solve the latency issue is also applicable to the bandwidth issue. Running AI on a user’s device instead of all in the cloud seems to be a huge focus for Apple and Google right now.

Google is working to make websites even more edge-y. Progressive Web Apps typically have offline-first functionality. This means that you can access a “website” from your phone with no internet connection. You can do work and save your changes locally. Then, the web app will sync with the cloud only when it is convenient.

Google is also becoming more adept at combining local AI features to achieve privacy and bandwidth savings. For instance, Google Clips keeps all your data local by default and does its magical AI inference locally. It fails to capture cool moments from your daily life. It is, however, the ultimate in edge computing.

ALL THE ABOVE

Self-driving cars are, as far as I’m aware, the ultimate example of edge computing. Latency, privacy, and bandwidth are the main reasons why self-driving cars can’t send all their sensors up to the cloud to wait for a response. This kind of latency will not allow your trip to survive. Even if it could the cellular network is too inconsistent to rely upon it for this type of work.

However, cars represent a complete shift in responsibility from the user for the software that they use on their devices. A self-driving vehicle must be centrally managed. It must receive updates from the manufacturer, it must send processed data back into the cloud to improve its algorithm. The nightmare scenario of a self-driving car botnet makes the toaster/dishwasher botnet we were worried about look like a Disney movie.

What are WE DOING?

I have some concerns about edge computing that I find difficult to articulate and may be unfounded. I won’t go into detail.

The big picture is that companies who do it well will have greater control over your life experience than they currently do.

You don’t need to worry about security when the devices in your garage and home are managed by Google Amazon Microsoft Apple. Updates are not an issue. You don’t need to worry about functionality. You don’t need to worry about capability. You can just accept what you are given and make the most of it.

This is the worst-case scenario. You wake up every morning to ask Alexa Siri Cortana Assistant which features your corporate bosses have added to your car, dishwasher, phone, and toaster overnight. You would “install” software in the personal computer era. You’ll only be able to use it in the edge computing era.

The big companies have the final say on how much control they wish to have over the lives of their users. It might be up to the users to decide if another way is possible to build the future. It’s a relief to let Larry Page take the wheel. What if you don’t like the direction he’s taking?

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