Week #5: TED / Emergence

In Luis von Ahn’s “Massive-scale online collaboration,” he speaks of how revamping CAPTCHA to reCAPTCHA created two functions instead of one. The first being CAPTCHA’s original purpose: to allow a person to verify they are human on a website to prevent scalping of online purchases by computer programs. The second being able to get the help of millions of people in decoding the text of old books which computers are not able to digitize. So, while people are submitting their reCAPTCHA words to verify they are human, they are also helping computers better recognize hard-to-decipher text from older books. Another way his team was able to use crowdsourcing to their advantage was by creating Duolingo, a website which presents simple to complex sentences in a foreign language with real-life context for people of all social statuses to learn a new language and translate as they go. This created an effective resource for people who cannot afford expensive foreign language learning programs, and in return, foreign texts were being translated for free, which would have been extremely costly to being with. Both of these examples really opened my eyes to crowdsourcing. It is extremely effective to use the help of millions for cheap, faster and, if implemented correctly, accurate results. Luis von Ahn’s team truly created ways to kill two birds with one stone. I believe in this kind of thinking is great since the team created a mutualistic relationship between what they were doing and their audience/general public. Their purpose and services would in turn benefit others, rather than aiming to make a product/service that only benefited the company. They definitely had a fair business model and created something that was sustainable.

In Massimo Banzi’s talk, “How Arduino is open-sourcing imagination,” an open-source microcontroller gives anyone the option to learn and create their own functioning product. The product enables anyone to customize and would allow them to have a cheaper product that may cost a lot more in the market. This would be another example of a company with a fair business model. Their product would allow their users to not be confined by other products and softwares such as Apple. There is more freedom and people wouldn’t be spending as much for something they might need. Again, a fair business model provided such as this is a sustainable method businesses can follow. Focusing on what a community needs rather than profits would result with a better, more efficient product.

In Steven Johnson’s “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software,” he introduces the concept of emergence by using the example of a slime mold study by Evelyn Fox Keller and Lee Segel. They questioned how slime molds were able to survive and relocate to environments that better suited them while lacking a brain and only being made of single cells. Instead of having a pacemaker, the slime mold cell community communicated through their production of cyclic AMP in which they were able to rally other cells together. This presented bottom-up behavior. As Johnson said, emergence is movement from low-level rules to higher-level sophistication. We can see this with slime molds and in other examples of nature. Emergence seems like a good reminder that not everything needs to be displayed by a top-down system. A system can work efficiently with a bottom-up flow. This top-down system may be the wrong approach to running a community depending on the situation. Sometimes a community can become too complex and difficult to regulate if there is one thing in command. In nature, many species are able to function as a community without any dominance. I think this is something valuable to think about when considering changes to better a community and how it functions.

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