Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome, Riley Crane

In seems very appropriate to announce on this New Year's Eve that Tim and I are Super-pleased® to confirm Dr. Riley Crane as our last panelist. Riley Crane is currently a "Society in Science" Branco Weiss fellow in the Human Dynamics group at the Media Lab at M.I.T. After receiving a Ph.D. in physics from U.C.L.A. he spent several years investigating shocks and spreading phenomena in social systems in order to understand whether or not there are rules governing collective human activity. He is the co-founder of, which uses "social intelligence" to help discover iPhone apps, and is also the co-founder of Charity Note, which harnesses the vast power of social systems in order to collect millions of dollars for charity. Riley is best known for leading the MIT team that won the DARPA Red Balloon challenge, mentioned everywhere, as well as on this humble blog, before we even knew him. Riley's efforts and expertise – namely, using the creativity of crowds to solve big problems – makes him not only a perfect fit for the panel, but a heady addition to our humble team. Expect to see Riley's name everywhere in the next few months (including the Colbert Report! Yow!); we're glad to have him on board.

Games that invent the future?

The Institute for the Future is doing some really interesting things with Collective Creativity, harnessing the power of crowds and appeal of games to make predictions about the future.

One game – Superstruct – outlined five "Superthreats" that may not be powerful enough on their own to bring upon the extinction of the human race but together might spell disaster for all of us. The game, a "massively multiplayer forecasting game," encourages players to act honestly, reacting to events in the game as they would in real life using their own personalities as the basis for their actions. The outlook? Grim.

From a press release dated September 22, 2019:

Humans have 23 years to go

Global Extinction Awareness System starts the countdown for Homo sapiens.

PALO ALTO, CA — Based on the results of a year-long supercomputer simulation, the Global Extinction Awareness System (GEAS) has reset the "survival horizon" for Homo sapiens - the human race - from "indefinite" to 23 years.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Crowdsourcing Merit Badge!

While visiting my father's house the other day, one of my old Webelos activity badges practically fell into my hand. I don't remember what the pin symbolized -- good citizenship? (Apparently it no longer exists, at least in this particular shape.) Anyway, it made me think that crowdsourcing, or collective creativity, is the kind of know-how we ought to be teaching kids today.

And it also struck me as a good omen for the success of our SXSW panel!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Massively Collaborative Mathematics

From this weekend's NYTimes Magazine's Year In Ideas, Jordan Ellenberg has a fascinating blurb on "Massively Collaborative Mathematics":

Gowers's goals for the so-called Polymath Project were modest. "I will regard the experiment as a success," he wrote, "if it leads to anything that could count as genuine progress toward an understanding of the problem." Six weeks later, the theorem was proved. The plan is to submit the resulting paper to a top journal, attributed to one D.H.J. Polymath.

Check it out in full here. So cool!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Science Gets a Helping Hand

Here's an interesting bit of collectively creative coolness: FoldIt is a site where users play a puzzle game that can help advance medicine. The goal of the site is to see if humans, with their intuitive reasoning and problem-solving skills can fold proteins more efficiently than a computer. If it turns out they can, the organizers want to teach this kind of thinking to computers to finish the job.

From the site:
The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

DARPA gets in on the act

From a NYTimes article today:

Dr. Lee said he was not certain what to expect in the tactics that teams might use to track down the balloons, which will be visible from public roadways for a single day. Some groups are developing software applications. Dr. Lee said he also expected large teams of spotters and even the possibility that some groups might use subterfuge like disseminating false information.

Other groups may try to pay for information, he said, noting that even during a brief experiment the agency ran with a balloon near its headquarters, information on the location was offered for sale on Craigslist.

It's interesting to think of 'creativity' in not just the narrow terms we've so far offered, but it terms of problem solving. DARPA's mission is to see how collective creativity can help in a large scale search – like, oh, say, for a wanted fugitive. That's DARPA: even when they're doing something really cool, they still manage to make your skin crawl.