[avatar user="Ted Hurlock" /]
One thing we can be sure about with the crowd is that it has devices. Many devices. Each crowd citizen will typically have at least one mobile device, and probably one or more fixed position devices – such as a desktop or laptop.
On the whole these devices spend most of their time in an idle state – waiting for some form of interaction or interruption. Even in the case of work related devices the processing power of the device is not really called up in any great measure when being actively used. Very few devices are taxed from a processing perspective, excepting in the case of gaming, media consumption, or intense design work. Even the task of browsing the web is a very sporadic affair with processing typically only required on each page refresh. Though as the web becomes more app focused there is more work allocated to the device to communicate with internet services and perform some related actions.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that there is real potential for this massive crowd resource of processing to be used in a cloud based scenario. Cloud computing is primarily seen as work done by managed services which are dedicated solely for this particular task. Cloud based file systems, email systems, business systems and the like are typically devoted to a particular focused purpose. The cloud of internet connected crowd devices can make available a vast computing resource for more generalised computing problems.
Becoming engaged in these crowd platforms can be as simple as downloading and installing software locally on your computer and allowing it to perform some actions with your spare processor cycles.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI@Home) project provides one such service for eager crowds to provide computing resource to analyse centrally captured space radio data in the hunt for little green men. This altruistic platform requires very little intervention on the part of the participating crowd and its reward comes in a more social form of feeling you are helping the greater good. The same platform that supports the SETI project also allows crowd citizens to support research in areas such as medicine, mathematics and climate studies. But citizens must keep in mind that participation is not free – your local computer resources have an intrinsic cost in the form of power. And although this can usually be quite easily regulated, those who have more concern for saving the environment might want to think twice about how much of their valuable energy goes to the good of the platform.
And as with any technology based arena there is always the possibility for more sinister uses. Surreptitiously making use of crowd citizens’ computing resources for nefarious purposes – such as computing BitCoin hashes – is already on the rise. Keeping this in check is about awareness and education. And as the only real cost for mining BitCoins is the power consumed by the computing resource, citizens need to be very wary of letting this run amok. So if you notice your laptop is running on full CPU and the fan is whirring constantly, then it may be time to do a little detective work to see if you have unwittingly become a slave in the crypto currency miner.