The Collective Intelligence Revolution
Gaming is an important part of society today, and many see the evolution towards homo ludens
(playing man) as its major characteristic. Now researchers from around the world are organising the first international conference dedicated to “Harnessing collective intelligence with games
“, to be held in September this year in Germany. The conference is aimed at deepening our understanding of harnessing large groups of participants to perform certain tasks through games, an emerging catalyst of collective intelligence.
On the agenda will be crowdsourcing
, crowdsolving and human computation,
among many other phenomena. They’re all variants on the same increasingly prevalent theme: the combination of human intelligence capabilities and digital computing power. Human beings still have a superior capacity for certain faculties such as aesthetic judgment, intuitive decision making or critical thinking. But unlike computers that require only a little electricity to operate, humans need to be constantly motivated in order to continue contributing. Motivation they could find in games and their mechanics.
For Markus Krause
, a PhD student at the University of Bremen working on collective intelligence and its public uses, human and machine must work closely together.
The combination of human intellectual capabilities, and the power of computers to store and disseminate data, can be a very effective model for helping out humanity.
The term crowdsourcing (the use of many people to accomplish a task) was born in an article
in 2006. While the word itself may have been new, the phenomenon it described had existed for a long time.
It was crowdsourcing that got Luis von Ahn
, now an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, thinking about CAPTCHAs in the early 2000’s. If you’ve ever opened an email account or filled out a form online, then it’s likely that you know about CAPTCHAs
. They are quick tests which allow systems to differentiate a human user from a computer, preventing robots from sending out automated responses, polls, phishing and any other malicious spam or data retrieval activity.
The test is based on the analytical capacity of the human brain. Two sets of letters are presented, often distorted to make their analysis possible for humans but difficult for robots. At a TED conference
in 2011, Luis von Ahn explained how he had reflected on the possibility of using the time spent deciphering CAPTCHAs for a specific purpose, something that would be useful for everybody.
200 million CAPTCHAs are typed every day worldwide. With an average of ten seconds per CAPTCHA, that’s 555,000 hours per day. During those ten seconds, your brain does something extraordinary. It realises something that computers are incapable of realising. I then asked myself if we could do something useful for those ten seconds. There are problems that computers can not solve. But, somehow, we could divide that problem into segments of ten seconds, and every time someone types a CAPTCHA, it solves part of the problem. From now on, when you type a CAPTCHA, not only are you identifying yourself as a human, but you are also helping us to digitally scan books.
Thus was born reCAPTCHA, acquired by Google in 2009. Each time Google Books digitally scans a book, a certain portion of the text (usually around 20%) can’t be decrypted by the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software Google uses. With the two sets of letters proposed in each reCAPTCHA, there is a CAPTCHA already verified by OCR which identifies you as a human, and some text from a book that you will decrypt. For Luis von Ahn, the software is a real success.
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