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As in M-W, the term crowd is defined as "a large number of persons especially when collected together". In this regard, concept of crowdsourcing has been introduced in the scientific and research community. So, what is the equivalent term for the collection of (artificially or physically) machines? Specifically, how one could refer to process of outsourcing a task to a set of machines?

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    There is also cloudsourcing now. Don't you just love English?
    – Mick
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:11
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    What type of machines are you trying to describe? The answer could be plant, assembly line, network, or any number of other terms.
    – Mick
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:38
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    Well, traditionally speaking, the human workers are being laid off due to mechanization or automation.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 26, 2016 at 11:53
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    Hmmm. Is this question asking for an equivalent for "crowd" or "crowdsourcing". @Eilia - Please clarify and add an example sentence (as required for single-word-requests).
    – AndyT
    Oct 26, 2016 at 14:48
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    I believe that folding@home has implemented what you are seeking to define and they call it a "distributed supercomputer" so distributed computing could refer to this process.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Oct 27, 2016 at 14:05

11 Answers 11

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You may want to consider cluster (used mostly in computing).

businessdictionary.com:

cluster

Group of independent servers (usually in close proximity to one another) interconnected through a dedicated network to work as one centralized data processing resource. Clusters are capable of performing multiple complex instructions by distributing workload across all connected servers. Clustering improves the system's availability to users, its aggregate performance, and overall tolerance to faults and component failures. A failed server is automatically shut down and its users are switched instantly to the other servers.

Wikipedia:

Computer cluster

A computer cluster consists of a set of loosely or tightly connected computers that work together so that, in many respects, they can be viewed as a single system.

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    I'd say that "distributing" is probably the best option for the second question, but cluster is usually the correct answer for the first question. Important to remember that cluster implies an association between members that isn't always implied in crowd.
    – Kaithar
    Oct 26, 2016 at 16:57
  • To be more explicit, and to answer both questions: distributed computing is the action which is performed upon a cluster of computers.
    – flith
    Oct 27, 2016 at 9:38
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What jumped to my mind when I read your question was the example of the SETI@home project:

Google's synopsis of the homepage (I couldn't find the text on the site itself...) calls it "Currently the largest distributed computing effort with over 3 million users."

So, potentially "distributed computing effort" is what you're looking for... though it's a bit of a mouthful.

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  • +1 Distributed computing is the term that I have heard used for this, and that immediately came to mind.
    – 1006a
    Oct 26, 2016 at 14:12
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In 2000 Pande Lab launched Folding@Home.

Folding@home (FAH or F@h) is a distributed computing project for disease research that simulates protein folding, computational drug design, and other types of molecular dynamics. The project uses the idle processing resources of thousands of personal computers owned by volunteers who have installed the software on their systems. (Wikipedia)

The term they use is "distributed computing". While this term predates the term (or at least its popularity, I need to verify the former) crowdsourcing, and does not follow the same construction, I believe it well matches the process you describe.

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A group of machines such as autonomous UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or terrestrial robotic devices programmed to attack a target or otherwise act together in a cooperative way can be referred to as a swarm.

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So, what is the equivalent term for the collection of (artificially or physically) machines?

This is called a server farm (server cluster is rarely used):

A server farm or server cluster is a collection of computer servers - usually maintained by an organization to supply server functionality far beyond the capability of a single machine. Server farms often consist of thousands of computers which require a large amount of power to run and to keep cool.

Server farms are what run the applications that enable most of your hosted applications (such as the stackengine network; gmail, etc.).

A cluster is similar in concept, except a cluster is designed to run one specific program, across a large set of loosely connected machines. It is different than a server farm in that a server farm may run many different applications on the same set of hardware.

Distributed computing is an adjective that describes tasks that are run over remote machines; which are often clusters (as is the case with SETI@home).

Specifically, how one could refer to process of outsourcing a task to a set of machines?

In computer science specifically, tasks are offloaded onto remote computing resources:

In computer science, computation offloading refers to the transfer of certain computing tasks to an external platform, such as a cluster, grid, or a cloud.

(Definitions taken from Wikipedia)

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Array might work. The American Heritage Dictionary Fifth Edition defines it as meaning:

  1. An impressively large number, as of persons or objects: an array of heavily armed troops; an array of spare parts.


It is is true that it refers mostly to placing the machines in a particular position, but it can be used in other situations. Consider this example appearing on macmillandictionary.com:

An array of solar panels supplies the site with electricity.

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    I get the impression that they meant to use the word "range" rather than "array" in that title. Array normally implies components operating as one, where all or most are needed to get the result and the individual components can't do the same job in greater time. An antenna array for instance.
    – Kaithar
    Oct 26, 2016 at 17:05
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If the machines are all giving input that will be used to arrive to a solution (analogous to swarm intelligence), consider the term ensemble.

In machine learning an ensemble is a group of classifiers that contribute to a single proposed answer - which seems to be what the question is referring to.

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  • +1 for the answer! Is that the case when several (possibly) different algorithms trying to solve same problem (specifically part of a solution or better to say micro-task(s)) on different machines?
    – Eilia
    Oct 27, 2016 at 11:43
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    @Eilia : in an ensemble, typically each machine solves the problem independently. Imagine having a panel of experts or judges voting (slightly analogous to other answers that have been have proposed), so that you can get a better answer. You may also consider "agents", distributed computing or server clusters / server farms, depending on context.
    – Andrew
    Oct 27, 2016 at 14:05
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    If you are looking for micro-tasks, that's probably the domain of swarm algorithms (or agents), although I've never heard the term "a swarm of machines" used in such context.
    – Andrew
    Oct 27, 2016 at 14:12
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A collection of computers designed to work together by exchanging information is often called a network (or computer network). Unfortunately, the equipment that is used to connect them together is also called a network (sometimes distinguished by the phrase "the network").

Cambridge Dictionary: network

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  • I guess OP is referring to a set of "industrial" machines.
    – user66974
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:24
  • @JOSH For some strange reason, I could only think of computers, perhaps because I spend all day sitting in front of one.
    – Mick
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:31
  • I know what you mean...
    – user66974
    Oct 26, 2016 at 8:32
  • Hmmm, I don't think "network" is the best option here. You're right, but usually a network has a more nuanced meaning, depending on the context. This results in condition where "a network of computers" isn't the same thing as "a computer network". It can also introduce headaches when people make a distinction between the logical part of a computer that's networked and the logical part that is entirely local to that machine.
    – Kaithar
    Oct 26, 2016 at 17:11
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Also, consider hive mind from sci-fi culture

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    I'd up-vote, but this is an incomplete answer. Standards here
    – JPhil
    Oct 26, 2016 at 20:10
  • We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – NVZ
    Nov 12, 2016 at 13:17
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Engine-driven machinery in large quantities can be referred to as a fleet. The DoD does so with aircraft, AGE/GSE, vehicles, and any metalworking machinery.

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  • We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – NVZ
    Nov 12, 2016 at 13:17
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Assuming the machines don't get to choose which work to accept, I'd say we

  • assign the work to those machines,
  • queue the work on them, or
  • task them with the work.

The lingo surrounding AWS instances, Azure, and similar cloud computing platforms may also be enlightening. I'm not, at present, well versed in that jargon myself.

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  • I believe this answer misses the mark entirely. I grant that the OP is not quite clear as to whether they want an equivalent of "crowd" or "crowdsourcing", but they are clearly not looking for an equivalent of "source"; they want a word which relates to multiple machines, "assign", "queue" and "task" are all equally valid for a single or multiple machines.
    – AndyT
    Oct 27, 2016 at 9:21

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