Sunday, July 08, 2007

Smile! You've just been CrowdSourced

If you want a clear-cut demonstration of what's Crowdsourcing and where it can lead us all, then I suggest that you watch Human Computation by Luis von Ahn, a hosted session by Google TechTalks. You will learn [from the 6th minute on] that people of Earth are spending & wasting 9 billion human-processing-hours on playing Solitaire, an outrageously unproductive activity, and that if tricked into playing some other games, such as those created by New Flatland's engineers, von Ahn being one of their most distinguished members, the crowds' idle time could then be harnessed and turned into pure gold, obviously not to the great advantage of the players, but certainly to the benefit of the creators of those alchemy games, which turn human idle time into a rain of golden coins.

Luis von Ahn, an impressive and charismatic lecturer, is behind several of such games. While watching him, I had a growing feeling of uneasiness: the more my awe to this man grew, the more I felt my guts turning inside out. After all, nobody likes feeling that he's nothing but a puppet in a game. What Luis von Ahn provides us with is an astounding example of how money enslaves science, which in its turn, enslaves human beings to satisfy its master.

What von Ahn reveals in his lecture is New Flatland's lack of any sentiment to that being which is human, placing that being on the same level as any other silicon chip, judging that being based on one and only one measure: cost-effectiveness. Von Ahn is continuously amused by his inventions, and by the efficiency of his creations, and for a good reason - they are perfect. And yet, this perfection is a grim example of how New Flatland can [ab]use humans as CPU, taking advantage of both the human weaknesses and the always-on reality in order to harness the crowds into its production lines.

After watching the video, some 9 months ago, I visited von Ahn' site. In the start page there was this picture [thanks to], which perfectly tells my feelings at the time:

Since then, von Ahn changed disguise, and changed the picture.

But don't get confused by the warm colors and the removal of cynicism, because the machines von Ahn and alike are building (Google is a good example: and see The DNA of the Web(an example of a long tail perfection)) provide us with nothing but an illusion that we're free in our choices, free as in freedom (and in Google's case we should also add free as in free beer). So next time you're out playing in New Flatland, watch your back and remember that you might think that you're doing one thing, while in fact you've been unknowingly crowdsourced into doing several other things to the great advantage of them all.



I started discussing the dark side of CrowdSourcing just for rating purposes. But there's also a bright side to it, such as Amazon and many other startups, which are providing fair CrowdSourcing services, i.e. no tricks nor hidden goals, and in most cases those who have voluntarily engaged themselves in a CrowdSourcing task are getting paid for their work. My next post, therefore, will be dedicated to the brighter side of CrowdSourcing.

This is the 4th post in the Crowds' series: The birth of a crowds nation, New Flatland, Participate (please!) and Share (please!), Smile! You've just been CrowdSourced


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