Crowd Computing Makes Use Of Collective Cognitive Surplus

Thursday, April 19, 2012

 Crowd Sourcing
Prior to the advent of human-level artificial intelligence, crowd sourcing is increasingly been found to be an effective way for individuals, businesses and organizations tap into the wisdom of crowds.  By using the so-called cognitive surplus, mass input can be leveraged to perform tasks that require a little bit of work by many.
CrowdControl is a New York-based startup that is melding human workers with artificial intelligence to create the next paradigm for global labour: crowd computing.

The company’s founder, Max Yankelevich, says, “What we are doing is tapping into the world’s cognitive surplus.  When you stop to think about the amount of brain power we have on demand, it’s kind of staggering. If we wanted to, with all the available excess on hand, we could recreate Wikipedia from scratch in a single day.

Cognitive surplus is a term coined by Clay Shirky, for the book Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators. For instance, the time freed from watching television which can be enormously productive when applied to other social endeavors. Shirky notes that we are experiencing an era where people like to produce and share just as much, if not more than they like to consume. Since technology has made the producing and sharing possible, he argues that we will see a new era of participation that will lead to big change.

Graphic designer David McCandless has created a visualization of Shirky's cognitive surplus:

Shiky's book explores how new digital technology is unleashing a torrent of creative production that will transform our world. For the first time, people are embracing new media that allow them to pool their efforts at vanishingly low cost. The results of this aggregated effort range from mind-expanding reference tools like Wikipedia to life-saving Web sites like, which allows Kenyans to report acts of violence in real time. Cognitive Surplus explores what's possible when people unite to use their intellect, energy, and time for the greater good.

According to Kirill Shenykman, a venture capitalist who had recently led a $2 million investment in CrowdControl, “What we are trying to do is to transform human labor into something that scales like software,” he explained. “We’re trying to take people and make them into bits.”

Amazon's Mechanical Turk  is a well-known crowd sourcing online application that enables computer programmers (known as Requesters) to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are unable to do yet. It is one of the suites of Amazon Web Services. The Requesters are able to post tasks known as HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), such as choosing the best among several photographs of a store-front, writing product descriptions, or identifying performers on music CDs. Workers (called Providers in Mechanical Turk's Terms of Service) can then browse among existing tasks and complete them for a monetary payment set by the Requester.

Another use of crowd sourcing is Sebastian Seung's Eyewire project.  Seung and his colleagues have developed an AI system, which despite its efficiencies, still requires human guidance, so the researchers are enlisting crowd sourcing the help of the general public through a website called  At Eyewire, participants can help map the connectome of a mouse retina.  To make the process more interesting, it has been set up within the context of a game.  

Captchas are used not only to prove your humanity, but for translation and digitizing print materials.

Most crowd sourcing tasks so far have been mundane, for the user, like the familiar captchas used to prove that you are a human on many websites.  Often captchas are pieces of text from books that Google is trying to digitize. By correctly answering the captcha, you’re helping Google to complete its project. Recently the company began adding street signs from its global mapping project to captcha fields.

At CrowdControl, the aim is to take large complex jobs and breaks them into tiny pieces, then sources the piecework out to millions of micro-task workers around the world.”

"Just as Amazon can provide computing power on demand to a growing startup, we want to be able to offer an elastic marketplace for human labour.”

As CrowdControl's Shenykman puts it, "Anyone can put a HIT — human intelligence task — onto Mechanical Turk, and anybody else can do the work. But the complexity in this kind of system was limited. They should call them SHITs--Stupid Human Intelligence Tasks."

According to Shenykman, "With CrowdControl, we’re going to go much further.”

SOURCE  Venture Beat

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