Much of the prosperity gained by the industrialization of the economy in the 18th century arose from the increased productivity by dividing work into smaller tasks performed by more specialized workers. Wikipedia, Google and other stunning success stories show that with the rapid growth of the World Wide Web, this concept of “Division of Labour” can also be applied on knowledge work. Consequently, systems interweaving both the number-crunching capabilities and scalability of computer systems with the creativity and high-level cognitive capabilities of people are now routinely able to solve problems that would have been unthinkably difficult only a few years ago. As the scale, scope and connectivity of these human-computer networks increase, we believe it will become increasingly useful to view these systems as consti- tuting a kind of “global brain”.
Even though there are already literally hundreds of compelling examples of the global brain at work, our understanding of how to “program” the global brain is still poor because human computers are different from traditional computers due to the huge motivational, error and cognitive diversity within and between humans.
In this project we intend to investigate problem- solving processes that are either to difficult or to expensive to solve by either pure machine or pure human crowds. As such, we aim to answer the following research questions:
To harness the full potential of the global brain, we need new powerful programming metaphors that support the design and implementation of human computation systems, as well as general-purpose infrastructure to execute them. Specifically, to move from a culture of “wizard of oz”- techniques, in which applications are the result of extensive trial-and-error refinements, we pro- pose to build the programming language and framework CrowdLang which will incorporate ab- stractions such as group decision processes, the CrowdRecombinator, a novel tool to support the engineering process of new human computation systems, and the social operating system Crow- dOS which will manage the allocation of human resources to tasks as well as provide robust infrastructure for contracts and payments. We believe using these three components, human computation systems will become truly transformative in a variety of domains.
The impact of the project is twofold. On the practical side these tools will help engineers and managers to adopt human computation systems in practice and, thus, will foster the trans- formation of the Swiss economy in the “age of hyperspecialization”. On the scientific side, our explorations are likely to advance the field by providing new insights about the interplay between human and machine computation, the longterm properties of those systems, and will foster more engineering-oriented approaches in the development process.