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Friday, June 05, 2015

The Emerging Science of Human Computation

"The Web has turned the wisdom of the crowd into a valuable, on-demand resource. Now scientists are asking how best to put crowdsourced cognition to work." according to Emerging Technology From the arXiv.

The wisdom of the crowd has become so powerful and so accessible via the Internet that it has become a resource in its own right. Various services now tap into this rich supply of human cognition, such as Wikipedia, Duolingo, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

So important is this resource that scientists have given it a name; they call it human computation. And a rapidly emerging and increasingly important question is how best to exploit it.

Today, we get an answer of sorts thanks to a group of computer scientists, crowdsourcing pioneers, and visionaries who have created a roadmap for research into human computation. 

Photo: Pietro Michelucci
The team, led by Pietro Michelucci at the Human Computation Institute, point out that human computation systems have been hugely successful at tackling complex problems from identifying spiral galaxies to organizing disaster relief.

But their potential is even greater still, provided that human cognition can be efficiently harnessed on a global scale. Last year, they met to discuss these issues and have now published the results of their debate.

The begin by pointing out the extraordinary successes of human computation. One of the most notable is the project in which participants are asked to fold virtual proteins in the most efficient way possible. The goal is to solve one of the most important outstanding problems in molecular biology: how proteins fold so rapidly and efficiently.

The project has had some impressive successes. Soon after it began, it discovered the tertiary structure of a regulatory protein for the pros-simian immunodeficiency virus, a problem the research community had puzzled over for decades and one that that could lead to new ways of tackling the AIDS virus.

And the Zooniverse project asks citizen scientists to identify craters on the moon, help translate old ships’ logs, identify galaxies in astronomical images and find planets around other stars, among many other things.

Michelucci and co then describe the kinds of projects they want to create. They call one idea Project Houston after the crowdsourced effort on the ground that helped bring back the Apollo 13 astronauts after an on-board explosion on the way to the moon.

Their idea is that similar help can be brought to bear from around the world when individuals on earth find themselves in trouble. By this they mean individuals who might be considering suicide or suffering from depression, for example.  

The plan is to use state-of-the-art speech analysis and natural language understanding to detect stress and offer help. This would come in the form of composite personalities made up from individuals with varying levels of expertise in the crowd, supported by artificial intelligence techniques. “Project Houston could provide a consistently kind and patient personality even if the “crowd” changes completely over time,” they say.
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Additional resources 
Journal Reference: 

A U.S. Research Roadmap for Human Computation
Source: MIT Technology Review

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