Single Missions vs Swarm Logic

Single Missions vs Swarm Logic
from “The BYOD Playbook” , available soon on the Kindle and iTunes stores


In 1973 the Hughes Glomar Explorer was secretly commissioned to do one thing- raise a sunken Soviet submarine from 17,000 feet of water. The project was so amazing that if you watch a documentary about it, you would think it was the plot for a science fiction movie. I often wonder sometimes if we still have the type of people who can solve such problems. People who can do the impossible, without anything that currently exists or is known to solve the problem.

One fact I kept taking from the story was that the directive and specifics of the mission were only communicated verbally to a small group of people. They were as follows:

  1. You have to raise a Soviet submarine from around17,000 feet of water, or at least most of it.
  2. You have to keep it inside the ship afterwards so it can be studied.
  3. You have to do it in 41 months and no one can know.

And they did it. They built one of the most advanced machines humanity has ever conceived and under constant surveillance by the Soviets they raised about 50% of the submarine into the ship.

In the past everything was all about ONE BIG THING.  Even in education the focus was on doing one big thing like state test scores, putting one computer in every classroom, making sure every school had cable television, etc. One big push, and one big initiative.

Now, in 2013, we are in the era of swarm logic. Normally this is applied to the behavior of animals or to computer systems working together. The pop-culture media term for a type of common swarm logic is “crowdsourcing”. This is where a group of people, who usually do not know one another, contribute data to create some outcome.

For example, a blog site might have an app that lets people at a concert upload all their photos. Then in the background, some software organizes these photos chronologically to tell the story of the concert. The next step is this story gets connected to a social network and the people in the pictures start getting tagged by another swarm of people looking at the images.

This is the new way of creating and working. It is not about a few people with 300 million dollars of capital building a machine with tools that no other group has access to. It is about 300 million people with 100 dollars each creating something that is organic and owned by no one. Yet, this creation can be profitable to different people in different ways.

This model is already in the foundation of all the new communication tools available to students today. Tools often seen as not commercially viable, such as Google Apps for Education. Somehow these types of services have grown to accommodate 10s of millions of users. Users that are producing content faster than any other time in the history of mankind.  Not commercially viable? Naysayers, are you joking?

Swarm logic is powerful because it is never off, it always on. It is always at the fingertips of the individuals in the swarm. The future places power in the data the swarm contributes, and then the results of that data will be carried out autonomously by software and hardware. Am I crazy? No. This is already being done in mass transit, metro security camera systems, weather detection systems, etc.

If we want students to be ready for the future they need to be able to contribute, filter, and manipulate data. This process begins with them in a BYOD program. I had a parent say to me, “I hate computers.” I thought about it for a moment, and replied, “Yes but your child doesn’t, and this is their education we are talking about. Their opportunity.”

Personally I feel students are not born to use technology just because they are born at a certain time. They need education and training. They need to learn how to apply successful non-computer based paradigms to a world filled with devices.

Most importantly, in case their world faces an impossible problem, we need to make sure they have the skills to solve the unknown with the unknown. All our futures depend on that.

Tony DePrato

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