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Human computation could help solve world problems
January 24, 2016, 5:16 pm

Researchers from the US-based Human Computation Institute and Cornell University say that more humans can help out in accelerating research and finding solutions to life's most difficult problems, such as cancer, HIV, climate change and drought.

The team believes that combining human and computer intelligence could help combat some of the world's most frustrating problems. Crowdsourcing analysis of research materials is not something new. There are already ‘games with a purpose’ that offload some of the work of analyzing data to humans, who receive the tasks packaged as games.

When the purpose of those games involves forwarding science, it is "called citizen science," said Pietro Michelucci, director of the Human Computation Institute. New tools and infrastructure have made it easier to combine "various methods of crowdsourcing and create more complex and sophisticated systems," he said.

The discovery of an HIV-related finding, which had eluded researchers for a decade and a half, took only 10 days for citizen scientists to reach. The crowd experts were manipulating 3-D models in a protein folding game called Foldit. For a smartphone app called ‘Malaria Spot’, researchers found that every 23 diagnoses from members of the general public were as accurate as one diagnosis from a certified pathologist.

The trick is to figure out how many members of the public it takes to analyze a certain amount of data before that analysis is as accurate as the one from the trained scientist working in the lab. "When we can make that work, we have this force multiplier. If we have 30,000 people in the general public and it takes 30 people, then we have 1,000 crowd experts," Michelucci added.

Human computation is far from humans doing the bidding of machines. It is about leveraging humans in areas where machines fall short. For example, in chess, humans still have the edge in being able to focus on only the logical moves. Computers are good at chess because they can quickly consider every possible move, including the ones that clearly make no sense.

Human abilities, such as abstraction, complex pattern recognition, imaginationand creativity, are the kind of things that make it possible for people to find solutions quickly that machines cannot because there are just too many possibilities to search through.

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