The Tech Lessons of Westworld for Our World

The concepts that animate the android inhabitants of Westworld is where our infrastructure and cities are heading.

The concepts that animate the android inhabitants of Westworld is where our infrastructure and cities are heading. HBO/Cinemax

Featured eBooks

Issues in City and County Management
CIVIC TECH: Case Studies From Innovative Communities
Data Driven Ways to Improve Public Health

Connecting state and local government leaders

COMMENTARY | I'm not worried about rampaging robots, I worry about speed.

Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi movie, Westworld, may be where the initial concept of edge computing, also known as fog computing, first came to life. In the film, androids process information independent of the main computer—at the “edges” of the network.

In the original film and the HBO series that rebooted it, this results in a dystopian world where robots are taking over (oops, spoiler alert!) with disastrous consequences. But in the real world this new form of computing is helping us build the internet of things that will fuel our communities’ next generation technology.

We are actively using this technology to help government improve the quality of our everyday lives—with not a rampaging android in sight. While Westworld and its unfortunate series of events is an interesting comparison, edge computing simply brings cloud computing data processing capabilities back to Earth, where all the action is.

Why is it important that decisions be made on the “edge” of the network? Some data crunching can wait, but internet of things devices typically need immediate processing. The major issue that we are solving for is latency or delay. The roundtrip latency, to access critical data from a traditional cloud provider or the private data center, is simply too lengthy. When closing gates on a curvy mountain road in response to severe weather, changing traffic signal response to expedite emergency vehicles or activating emergency door locks to protect our children at school, time is of the essence and decisions must be made quickly.

That is where edge computing comes in, embedding data processing capabilities where the action originates – on a traffic light at an intersection or on a patient’s bedside in rehab (or, perhaps, beneath the Stetson in a processing unit of an artificial robot in Westworld).

The ability to process data at the edge produces big benefits when time is of the essence and the data that you must act on is stale within milliseconds. This type of function is already happening millions of times every day in our world of IoT connected devices.

As IoT and mobile technologies continue to grow, more and more devices are attaching themselves to networks. This is all happening at the edge, where things are a bit looser, the laws at first appear a little less defined, and everyone is pushing a different agenda.

It is a little like the old West, but not in the classic sense. Just like Westworld.

The value of edge computing is more than just a sensor here, a lock there, or an occasional safety alert; it gathers and analyzes all data for new insights into how systems function so informed decisions are made that truly improve quality of life.

Infrastructure operations and services are streamlined. First responder dispatch happens more rapidly. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications reduce accidents.  Healthcare improves through connected devices administering timely and accurate treatments. Augmented reality (AR) allows officers to identify potential criminals with glasses that scan faces in crowds then cross-references them to stored images.

Edge computing allows us to create real-time living, breathing models of our communities by collecting and integrating data from these sources, and we can use the insights taken to inform the ideas, planning, and decision-making that impacts citizens’ daily basis.

Long-term, resilience can be transformed by the sort of predictive analytics these devices can provide. The data allows cities to monitor and react quickly to fast moving potential disasters like gas leaks.

Thanks to its impressive adaptability and variety of use cases, edge computing may well become the cornerstone of smart community development, delivering important benefits that support both the city and citizen.

Just don’t tell Delores.

Marcus Moffett is a senior systems engineer director for Cisco focused on the United States public sector.

NEXT STORY: Alerting Drivers That Emergency Vehicles Are Responding Nearby