Navigation auf


Department of Informatics DDIS

CrowdLang and CrowdOS - Engineering Large Scale Human Computation Systems

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:

  • How can we systematically program, cultivate, and coordinate the global brain whilst au- tomatically adapting to the cognitive variance of human computation resources?
  • How can we support the seamless reuse of successful interaction patterns resulting in a systematic exploration of the whole design space?
  • How can we efficiently recruit, incentivize, and allocate human computers in human com- putation systems taking the requestor’s budget, time, and quality constraints into consid- eration?

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.


  • October, 2012This project is now supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) under contract number 200021_143411. Its layman summary will be published at
  • Abraham Bernstein interviewed by Swiss Radio DRS 1 on Collective Intelligence Wissen aktuell
  • June 25, 2012 (Chicago, IL): Presentation of our Paper: "How to translate a book within an hour - Towards Programmable Human Computers" at the ACM Web Science Conference 2012
  • June 7, 2012: Presentation of our pricing and allocation framework CrowdManager at the Workshop on Social Computing and User Generated Content in Valencia
  • Abraham Bernstein Interviewed on Crowdsourcing for the UZH Homepage Schwarmintelligenz: «Crowdsourcing» statt «Outsourcing»
  • December 26, 2011: CrowdLang highlighted in UZH Magazine Article


Weiterführende Informationen


Teaser text