Crowd-sourcing: Cooperation for the Common Good in the Digital Age

After viewing TED Talks on crowd-sourcing by Clay Shirky and Luis Von Ahn, I am convinced this method of cooperation is the right way we can begin solving large-scale problems while not having to convince others to completely change themselves or way of life, which is very hard to do even on an individual level, let alone an entire city, county, or country. Von Ahn had found a way to digitize text while also creating a security measure against bots using ReCaptcha while not having to convince the thousands of internet users who come across this feature daily to perform this work for free. That in itself is an amazing system that not only benefits the users by offering security from bots, but also the general public by immortalizing written works on the internet. Perhaps there is a way to address larger problems like global climate change awareness and understanding by having users participate in a system that benefits them in exchange for a few seconds of their time. Shirky reminds us that we spend a massive amount of time already connected to the internet to consume, create, and share unproductive material, why not use such time that is productive and has civic value rather than just communal? Is it possible to design a system similar to ReCaptcha that has users contributing without really being aware to large scale problems? Is this method ethical? Is even the smaller scale ReCaptcha ethical by having users perform work without their consent? Or should it not matter as the end justifies the means for the common good?

Shirky, Clay, How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World, published by TED@Cannes in June 2010, clay_shirky_how_cognitive_surplus_will_change_the_world

Von Ahn, Luis, Massive-Scale Online Collaboration, published by TEDxCMU in April 2011,

Can We Become Slime Mold to Better Our World?

Slime mold. It is not a plant or animal, but it is a simple single-cell organism. Why should we become like the slime mold and how would that help solve large scale problems? Because in a way, this organism can do something we humans cannot seem to do very well: cooperating and working together as one in order to achieve a single goal free of bias without following a ringleader. Usually, slime mold functions with its parts and pieces going about individually. However, once the basic needs for food or relocation arises, the nuclei instinctively band together to seek food or move to a new location, then they carry on their individual existences once the goal has been achieved. As Steven Johnson explains, many have researched this self-organizing system and applied it to many fields such as city planning and software development, as well as the concept of bottom-up and decentralized thinking. Using this fully cooperative concept, we can more efficiently address many global scale issues such as climate change, hunger, and diseases, as well as everyday functions.

However, in order to replicate the efficiency of the slime mold, humans must set aside their individual biases and focus on achieving the shared single goal. That may be the major hang-up in this paradigm shift. The slime mold can achieve the goal of seeking food and relocating because they are simple creatures who only have basic needs. Humans, on the other hand, are emotionally complex creatures. We are driven by our desires and interests, and even if the general goal is for the common good, people may not participate due to their differences in beliefs and personal biases and motivations.


Johnson, Steven, Introduction: Here Comes Everybody! from Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Scribner (2001)