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Crowdsourcing, Evolutionary Design, Their Combination, and Implications

Crowdsourcing, Evolutionary Design, Their Combination, and Implications

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Published by alecperkins
A look at two manifestations of self-organization -- the concepts of crowdsourcing and evolutionary design -- followed by thoughts on how they could be combined, and a brief discussion of the implications. Final paper for Self-Organization in Science and Society at RPI, fall 2007. The formatting is slightly off since Scribd doesn't seem to quite like the docx specification.
A look at two manifestations of self-organization -- the concepts of crowdsourcing and evolutionary design -- followed by thoughts on how they could be combined, and a brief discussion of the implications. Final paper for Self-Organization in Science and Society at RPI, fall 2007. The formatting is slightly off since Scribd doesn't seem to quite like the docx specification.

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Published by: alecperkins on Jun 02, 2008
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 Alec PerkinsSelf-Org. – EglashFinal Paper12.6.2007Crowdsourcing, Evolutionary Design, Their Combination, and ImplicationsTwo recent trends, crowdsourcing and evolutionary design, offer many possibilitiesparticularly with regards to design, and both have significant implications for end usersand designers alike. Individually, crowdsourcing and evolutionary design are rapidly altering the way things are done. Together, these trends have the ability to offer many more choices for users, potentially 
complete
choice. At the same time, they offerdesigners tools as replacements for focus groups and methods of rapid idea iteration.Like any tools, there are problems and shortcomings, however the complementary nature of these two trends overcomes many of these separate issues and leads toadditional capability. With the increasing demand for custom, personalized designs,tools that allow users to feel a sense of involvement and give them an opportunity toexpress their desires beyond simply voting with their dollar greatly improve the value of the design to the users.I.Crowdsourcing As defined by Wikipedia, itself a prominent example of the concept, “crowdsourcing”is the outsourcing of a task, generally to a large group of people (the crowd), in the formof an open call.
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Contrasted to more traditional outsourcing which typically is moreprivate, only intended for a specific group or company, crowdsourcingutilizes a publicgroup which can consist of anyone, though Internet access is typically required. Prizes,rewards, or other forms of compensation are not uncommon as incentives to participate,however they are not required for a project to be considered as crowdsourced. Thoughthe impetus for crowdsourced projects is not always self-organized, especially now thatit is being used more and more in commercial projects, some projects, such as the stock 
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 Wikipedia contributors, "Crowdsourcing,"
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
<http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Crowdsourcing&oldid=172251109> (19 November 2007).
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photography and image site iStockPhoto, do get their start as the result of an at leastsomewhat self-organized process.
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John Howe, originator of the term crowdsourcing, likens it to distributed computingprojects such as SETI@home, which uses the processing power of volunteeredcomputers when not otherwise in use
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.A more literal allusion to the similarity betweencrowdsourcing and distributed computing is the Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), aservice created by online book (and now just about everything) seller Amazon.com, thatprovides a framework for both creating crowdsourcing tasks and finding tasks toparticipate in. Named after the name of a chess playing mechanical device, the AMTservice allows jobs, or “Human Intelligence Tasks” (HITs), to include payment, makingit possible to earn money by completing tasks as part of a crowd. Tapping into what Amazon refers to as “artificial artificial intelligence,” the service allows the HITs to takeadvantage of the analytical power of what is essentially a distributed computing systemto accomplish tasks such as image
content 
analysis that are still beyond the capabilitiesof other current computing systems, and it just happens to be using people as theprocessors instead of silicon.Like distributed computing, the problems that are being outsourced to the crowdgenerally need to be easily divided into fairly independent parts that can be worked onin parallel. Or, if the problem is not suitable for parallel operations, it is possible topresent the problem in its entirety to each user. This has the particular advantage of generating potentially staggering numbers of solutions to the same problem which, withproper filtering, will yield high quality results. An example of this is the Netflix Prize, anongoing competition initiated in October, 2006by the online DVD rental service Netflixto find an algorithm for DVD recommendations that surpasses the current algorithm inuse by 10%, offering up to one million dollars to the finder of such a solution. As of December 5, 2007, the competition had enlisted the help of 23,912 teams, consisting of 29,297 contestants from 165 different countries. To date, there have been 20,091submissions from just 2,744 teams; according to the competition website, more than 40
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Howe, Jeff. “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.”
Wired 
June 2006.<http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html>. (19 November 2007).
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Howe, 2006
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submissions had been received just in the previous 24 hours. The top-rankingsubmission so far showed an improvement over the current algorithm by 8.5%, stillshort of the 10% goal, but enough to earn the submitting team a $50,000 “progressprize.”
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 With extreme numbers of contributors, it is possible to use the crowd to handle boththe distribution of a problem as well as redundant tasking. Two now famous HITs that were created on the AMT were searches for missing people using very recent satelliteimages and the ability of people to analyze images and understand them. The mostrecent, the search for adventurer Steve Fossett, who went missing in a 17,000 squaremile region of Nevada, had more than 50,000 volunteers scouring satellite imagery forFossett’s light aircraft. The tasks were distributed such that each image was analyzed by ten different users, improving the overall quality of the analysis – especially importantin an application such as this.
Crowdsourced tasks that do not offer any sort of directcompensation or incentive, such as the search for Fossett, have the advantage over othertasks in that those contributing their time are very likely doing it because they 
want 
todo it, and more often than not are fairly passionate about the task. Naturally, thisgenerally results in higher quality contributions, or at the very least “power users” whocontribute significant amounts to the project. One participant, Andy Chantrill,in thesearch for Fossett analyzed over 5,000 images of 278-square foot sections over a periodof 30 hours, at one time working for 13 hours straight. In an interview with Steve Friessof Wired.com, self-described Fossett admirer Chantrill noted in an example of altruismthat, "Whether they were [useful] or not, I don't know and will perhaps never know, but
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“Netflix Prize Leaderboard.”
 Netflix 
5 December 2007. <http://www.netflixprize.com/leaderboard>. (5December 2007).
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Friess, Steve. “50,000 Volunteers Join Distributed Search for Steve Fossett.”
Wired 
. 11 September 2007.<http://www.wired.com/software/webservices/news/2007/09/distributed_search>. (5 December2007).
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I participated myself, analyzing a little over 1,000 images and flagging two. The analysis of the imagesdid invoke a feeling of being part of a large computer, as well as a sense of futility as the number of available images kept
increasing
, since the images were more often than not nothing but a patch of brownor grey and the process became very tedious. However, the entire endeavor demonstrated the power of crowdsourcing, as the entire 17,000 square mile area was examined in its entirety at least once, 278square feet at a time.
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