Crowdsourcing As a Shortcut to the Technological Singularity (Free E-book)

The technological-singularity, in whatever form it ends-up taking, is coming:

  • Artificial-intelligence will become very useful if not match, then surpass, human-intelligence.
  • Robotics (nano and otherwise) will become a popular option for manipulating the physical-world around us.
  • Biology will become an information-science, and that means it will become something that can be designed and manipulated by technology.
  • Both virtual-reality and augmented-reality will get so good that they will compete with the real-thing (i.e., reality) in our hearts and minds.

These things are not really disputed. However, the big disputes tend to center around WHEN they will happen, ( decades vs. centuries is the popular debate).

Moreover, many people are excited (and many others scared) to see these things come to fruition; they think this stuff will be key in ushering in a ‘technological singularity’.

But, it’s exactly here that I want to pause… because, in my opinion, this is a story that needs to be set-straight before it continues…

What We Talk About vs. What We Want

It’s easy to get caught-up in the technological-singularity debate, but when we think about the technologies involved, do we even know what our own wild imaginations are doing?

I’d like to suggest that maybe we don’t….

When a nano-robot-swarm that can turn itself into a sandwich, a sandwich that can also read our thoughts, reprogram itself into an exact copy of our brain, a human baby, a chicken, or an alligator (and/or levitate), are we even thinking about progress, purpose, or capability anymore? Or are we just in a Lewis Carroll style fantasy-land where we no longer know up from down?

So, as you may see from this question, going by its more strict-definition, the ‘technological-singularity’ is not something we can rationally discuss. Indeed, the only way we can understand it as a phenomenon, at all, is as something that could be more accurately described as an ‘absurd-ularity’, a scenario where technology gets so ahead of our understanding that it will literally stop having meaning to us. *(see footnote.)

This is why I try not to get caught-up in, or even really aim my hopes toward a ‘techno-singularity’. And, I don’t think other people are that interested in this direct march into madness either…

I think that when we talk about this ‘singularity’, we actually mean something else.

The Absurdularity Vs. 24/7 Happy-Party-Place

Personally, I think what we really mean when we think and talk about the subject of all this rapid-progress is not ‘the singularity’; it’s something more akin to 1920’s style techno-utopia. In other words, I think most people are interested in making the world a 24/7 party-happy-place, and they’re seeing that technology might be the best thing to get us there.

I think most people are interested in questions like this:

  • When can we solve hunger, want, and need for everyone?
  • When can we no longer work but still be consumers (i.e., not face destitution)?
  • When can we boost our fun-times with technology
  • When can we cure diseases?
  • When can we stop or reverse aging?

Furthermore, I think we can all agree that even if we are not in a hurry to reach the ‘absurdularity’, we are (and ought to be) in a hurry to reach techno-utopia.

Luckily, There is a Shortcut

So, when you’re in a hurry, it’s always nice to find a shortcut, right? Well, you will be pleased to know that there is one! It has been hiding in plain sight since 2005 (or earlier).

Where? The answer is in an under-appreciated field of web-based technology called crowdsourcing.

What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is the outsourcing of a workflow to a crowd of people (as opposed to individuals or teams of people) usually over the internet.

*(Since I mention it so often, I will use ‘CS’ as an abbreviation of ‘crowdsourcing’ throughout this book.)

CS can be best understood by looking at 4 of its specific applications:

1. Microtasking: Splitting a large project into smaller uniform tasks to be worked on, tasks usually taking up to a few-minutes to complete. The workers are usually paid with cash or other benefits, or they are volunteers.

2. Crowdfunding: Funding a project via several contributors online, often using time-limits and/or a funding-goal to add pressure and a sense of urgency.

3. Open-Innovation: Innovation sought-after using a contest or open-call for ideas. This often involves a cash-reward.

4. Social-Search: Searching for an answer via a search-engine that relies (at least in some way) on a crowd of people to provide the answers.

This book will take a look at how this 4-piece toolkit can help us reach tech-utopia dramatically faster.

CS Tools Are in a Unique Position

With social-search, microtasking, crowdfunding, open-innovation, telepresence technologies, and task-routing methodologies, we can ramp-up the latest most promising technologies including big-data, robotics, and VR and AR, all tools which will, if empowered by us, change the world.

Furthermore, I believe that with some decisive moves made by individuals and by CS companies, crowdsourcing is uniquely positioned to enable us to act as if we were in a techno-utopia today (instead of tomorrow).

But first, let’s take a look at the appeal of CS in the next chapter to understand why it has been successful so far.

* Footnote:

Where-how-and-why examples of how a technological-singularity would mean an end to ‘meaning’.

1. A world without white-lies: With ultra-sensitive sensors, our every eye-twitch, our every movement, our every pattern of action will betray our true feelings. How will we get-along with our fellow-man without white-lies?

2. The need to reproduce (and how we go about doing it) will be questioned once we are able to design our biology and clone/alter ourselves. The very ‘will of our species’ will lose its role as a guiding principle for the allocation of effort and as a fuel for progress.

3. Individuality itself may disappear as our minds find more ways to link to one another, eventually forming a hive-mind of borgs (half-machine/half-human).