Did you know that historically any major accomplishment of humanity required the work of around the same number of humans? Around 100,000 people. For example the great pyramids and putting a man on the moon both required the efforts of around 100,000 people. The reason for this limit in number of people was logistics. Now in the age of technology we have the power to logistically coordinate hundreds of millions of people… imagine the possibilities. Luis von Ahn, creator of Captcha, is doing just that with a new endeavor to translate everything on the web using the same principle of harnessing mass collaboration on the web, with some interesting incentives. Checkout the tool DuoLingo.
Captcha — yes it’s so annoying when you want to buy those concert tickets and you enter the wrong thing. But did you know that Captcha is harnessing the power of millions of little entries to help digitize old books? Every time you take 10 seconds to enter a Captcha phrase, you have contributed to a mass collaboration of efforts to digitize text from old books that cannot be digitized automatically by computers through an effort called reCaptcha.
The internet allows us to see more opportunity through serendipity because we are exposed to more people and their talents. We also have a “cognitive surplus“, a term coined by Clay Shirky We like to consume, create and share. We have a lot of free time (up to 35 hours per week of television watching in U.S.) but what are we doing with it and how do we motivate people to use that free time for collaboration when there is no financial incentive?
The Internet has given us non-financial motivations to participate in collaboration. These motivations include autonomy, being part of a group, feeling a sense of membership, being appreciated, allowing opportunity to show off, and more according to Clay Shirky. Why else would people create all of those LOLCat pictures. Shirky quotes inventor Dean Kamen, “Free cultures get what they celebrate.” Shirky challenges us to motivate people to use this cognitive surplus for civic value and ultimately change society.
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