In November of 2000, NASA did something unusual: it asked amateurs to help it map the surface of Mars. The agency set up a Web site called Clickworkers, where people could take a short tutorial on how to classify Martian craters and then get to work clicking on photos of Mars.
NASA then aggregated all those clicks to come up with a Martian-crater map. There were two very interesting things about the results. First, although there was no financial incentive to participate, more than a hundred thousand people took part in the study, generating more than 2.4 million clicks.
Second, and even more striking, the collective product of all those amateur clickers was very good—as a report put it, their “automatically computed consensus” was “virtually indistinguishable from the inputs of a geologist with years of experience in identifying Mars craters.” At the time, Clickworkers may have looked like just an oddity. But it demonstrated, relatively early, that one of the Web’s most intriguing, and potentially most important, characteristics is its ability to harness the collective intelligence of large groups of people in order to solve problems.
It’s easy to see how the Web has transformed the way we shop, the way we consume media, and the way we communicate with one another. But it’s also begun to change the way we make decisions and even forecast the future. Attempts to tap collective intelligence on the Web come in lots of different forms. In some cases, it happens without anyone really knowing: it emerges, in effect, from choices people make for themselves.
The most obvious example of this is Google’s search engine, whose PageRank algorithm relies, to a large extent, on aggregating the links from one Web site to another. When people add links, or sometimes even when they click on them, they don’t know that they’re making Google’s search engine a little smarter, but that’s the by-product of their actions. Similarly, people use Delicious to bookmark pages (and to categorize them with labels) for their own purposes.
But, when you aggregate all those bookmarks and labels, it turns out that Delicious users are collectively producing a surprisingly useful categorization scheme for the Web.
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Why didn’t you check out the video?
I heard Pizza Driver is going viral, so you should act now if you want to be the first person to send it to your friends.
Pizza will never die.
Researchers at Princeton and UCLA have developed a process that combines microfluidics and photopolymerization to fabricate noncircular microfibers. Deformations caused by flow around pillars sculpt the shape of a stream of reactive solution, which is polymerized into diamond, triangular, U-shaped, and hollow fibers (top to bottom, all scale bars = 200 μm).
Credit: Adv. Mater. 2014, DOI: 10.1002/adma.201400268
This poly(methyl methacrylate) panel impregnated with specialized CdSe/CdS quantum dots diverts about 10% of the incident light toward its edges. The edges of such a panel could be fitted with photovoltaic components to create a solar-cell window. In this photo, the panel is illuminated by a 365-nm UV lamp.
Credit: Nat. Photonics 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2014.54
VIBRANT A flask contains monoacetyl ferrocene prepared by George Osbourn in an undergraduate chemistry lab at the University of Sheffield.
Credit: George Osbourn
Colloidal quantum dots incorporated in ionic salts (bottom, NaCl matrix) are more brightly photoluminescent than they are in solution (top, aqueous). Changing quantum dot size and/or composition yields different emission colors, allowing device makers to tune the optical properties of the material.
Credit: Chem. Mater. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/cm5009043
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