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Technical Perspective: Corralling Crowd Power

Early pioneers in computing, such as Herb Simon and Allen Newell, realized that human cognition could be framed in terms of information processing. Today, research like that described in the following paper is demonstrating the possibilities of seamlessly connecting human and machine information processors to accomplish creative tasks in ways previously unimaginable. This research is made possible by the rise of online crowdsourcing, in which millions of workers worldwide can be recruited for nearly any imaginable task. For some kinds of work and some fields of computer science these conditions have led to a renaissance in which large amounts of information are parallelized and labeled by human workers, generating unprecedented training sets for domains ranging from natural language processing to computer vision.

However, complex and creative tasks such as writing or design are not so straightforward to decompose and parallelize. Imagine, for example, a crowd of 100 workers let loose on your next paper with instructions to improve anything they find. You can quickly envision the challenges with coordinating crowds, including avoiding duplication of effort, dealing with conflicting viewpoints, and creating a system robust to any individual's lack of global context or expertise. Thus, the parallelized independent tasks typical of crowdsourcing today seem a poor match for the rich interactivity required for writing and editing tasks. These coordination and interactivity issues have been critical barriers to harnessing the power of crowds for complex and creative real-world tasks.


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