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Is Your Life Crowd Sourced?

Exploring The Present & Future of Wisdom and Decision Making

This article introduces readers to the origins of crowdsourcing, the reasons for its growth, the current state of play (from startups, ICO’s disrupting the VC industry, medicine and hedge funds) and the catalysts fueling its future explosion. Ironically, crowdsourcing signals a return to the primeval notion of the tribe as the ultimate survival strategy for Homo Sapiens or modern day humans.

Back, you know, a few generations ago, people didn’t have a way to share information and express their opinions efficiently to a lot of people. But now they do. Right now, with social networks and other tools on the Internet, all of these 500 million people have a way to say what they’re thinking and have their voice be heard. — Mark Zuckerberg


It was a bright, sunny morning in April 2010 and I was sitting with the producer of a very popular news show on TV in Mumbai. I was an accountant and an auditor then. We were debating the utilization of fixed assets called Outdoor Broadcast (OB) vans. For those not familiar with TV broadcasting — these are the goofy looking vans with a dish antenna on top. For the record, these vehicles are extremely expensive to own and maintain and when there are news worthy stories breaking across the nation, they are difficult to schedule and optimize. These vans capture live video and broadcast it to the satellite directly courtesy the antenna on top. The signal can then be downlinked to the studio and broadcast to the audience. I just described live TV news in a nutshell. Anyhow, what struck me was what the TV producer described as the future of live news- crowdsourcing news from stringers(freelance reporters) and common people using their cell phone and social media in real time. We have all seen examples of raw footage shot using cell phones. To me, it seemed like the disruption of TV news and the extinction of the OB van. It was also the moment when the enormity of crowdsourcing as a phenomenon dawned on me.

Origins of Survival

The wisdom of the crowd is the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than that of a single expert.

The notion that the crowd is wiser than the individual is as old as democracy itself. True democracy was the rule of the people through their elected representatives. In a judicial system, the jury is another example. To witness wisdom through diversity of thought in a jury, watch the movie 12 Angry Men.

Older still is the theory that Homo Sapiens as a species survived because of collaboration amongst various tribes. Absence of such crowdsourcing resulted in extinction of other versions of humans namely Neanderthals and Homo Erectus.

Learning From Each Other: A Global Neural Network

The insight that crowd responses to an estimation task can be modeled as a sample from a probability distribution invites comparisons with individual cognition. In particular, it is possible that individual cognition is probabilistic in the sense that individual estimates are drawn from an “internal probability distribution.” If this is the case, then two or more estimates of the same quantity from the same person should average to a value closer to ground truth than either of the individual judgments, since the effect of statistical noise within each of these judgments is reduced (source: wiki)

Crowd is wiser compared to an individual. This is not the absolute truth but rather a way of providing actionable insights to an individual brain to make better decisions.

The Gig Economy

There has been a growing clamor for having a second, third or multiple income streams to sustain and achieve a higher standard of living. Many people have realized that in a post AI world- short stints/gigs of sporadic, high paying gigs can be a viable alternative to working a job. Creativity being the key skill. A great example is the website Freelancer.com which allows you to source talent from the crowd in the form of freelancers. No longer is productive talent the domain of one country. Rather, the crowd is out there for you to pick, choose and be chosen in return.

The Sharing Economy

The sharing economy or the exciting part of the technology masks structural changes in the labor market which are at once profound and frightening.

I have often spoken to my Uber drivers about their life and amazingly most of them went through phases from driving as an Uber driver full time to part time ie from a time when it was very lucrative to fiercely competitive now. However, all of them had other passions — music, business or working a job but they were underemployed or in their words they made much more driving Uber. That could be great news except that it could also point out to the absence of partial absence of jobs for many. Uber, AirBnB could be masking a lot of users that are cash strapped courtesy of structural changes in economies.

Democratization of Influence

Evidence- today popular bloggers, DJ’s, podcasters, youtubers, instagrammers are the New rockstars and they wield tremendous influence while selling everything from coffee to mattresses courtesy power of the crowd of followers. You are not spared of marketing even there. I am just kidding-monetization of art is very difficult and requires a great deal of relentless effort. It’s not easy, it just looks easy. Welcome to the new old economy.

With millions of followers, these diffused centers of influence can be extremely strong in swaying opinions of their crowd.

Crowdsourcing Everything

To understand the enormity of crowdsourcing, consider the state of play today:

1/ Let’s look crowdsourced wisdom in things (including grocery) you buy, food you eat , places you travel to and live in: Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, AirBnB are all great aggregators of trust in the form of recommendations from sources known and unknown spread out globally. Ultimately, Will they replace your friends and family as primary resources? They probably have. AI promises to erase all doubt.

2/ Zillow, Realtor.com, Bankrate are crowdsourcing wisdom needed to buy a home. Will they replace realtors? Only time will tell.

3/Robo advisors/Personal Finance apps such as Personal Capital, Mint, Albert are crowdsourcing benchmarks to compare your financial health with others.

4/Connected devices such as the Apple Watch are aiding doctors in collecting live data for research while Bluetooth beacons are collecting trip data for insurance providers.

3/Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) in the form of tokens such as Ether, Tezos are now recognized as securities by the SEC. These instruments have enabled startups to passed traditional VC firms and raise money by issuing tokens.

Fred Wilson, VC and cofounder of Union Square Capital partners is not worried about the fact that ICO’s are disruptive to the VC industry. In his opinion capital from VC’s is still a very important source of funding:

4/ Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Amazon Lunchpad allow millions of entrepreneurs to crowdsource funding and to monetize their business.

5/ In a podcast, Atul Gawande, (an American surgeon, writer and public health researcher) in conversation with accomplished author Tyler Cowen noted that is not possible for a single doctor to amass all the medical knowledge and wisdom needed to treat many conditions. Therefore, crowdsourcing knowledge, enabled by technology, can help improve the field of medicine. Will AI replace doctors? A very low likelihood.

6/ On the other side in the field of finance, hedge funds such as Numerai are focused on creating a new breed of quant hedge funds that rely on a meta model or an agglomeration of crowd sourced models sourced from quants such as data scientists and mathematicians. Startups such as Gnosis aims to create more efficient prediction markets through crowdsourcing.

The argument in the examples above is that the whole is better than the sum of its parts. That is the essence of crowdsourcing wisdom. The thing to note here is that truly there isn’t a single decision in your life that cannot be crowdsourced. If there is, there probably is an entrepreneur in some corner of the world ironing out that wrinkle.

The True Man Show

If planet earth was a true man, it would share the same feelings Jim Carey’s character in the Truman Show with cameras and sensors documenting every millisecond of its life.

Undeniably, every new technology can have a dark side. For instance, green house gases and Carbon Monoxide courtesy the invention of the internal combustion engine are considered to be contributing to global warming and climate change. Likewise, loss of privacy could be the curse of the social media revolution which many people feel will get aggravated with the arrival of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. Examples include people hacking into personal cameras installed at homes or taking control of the house by hacking the IoT control devices, unexpected behavior by AI chat bots etc. A notable difference between social media and the IoT is that the former involves a lot of voluntary sharing by users ie self provided information. but the IoT could have unintended consequences in the form of data being shared unintentionally.

A global dialogue and education on the side effects of what we consider, on a net basis, helpful advancements in convenience and standard of living is a must.

Final Thoughts

In the future, Augmented or Mixed Reality will allow crowdsourcing in real time and with very little effort using devices similar to Hololens, Google glass and even more futuristic — embedded chips in the human body.

Look at what you read see and hear every day and identify how many sources of that knowledge are digital or sourced from the crowd (social media, traditional media, online newspapers, videos-both professional and raw)

At some point, you start to question- are my thoughts, believes and ultimately my belief about who I am crowdsourced?

Algorithms and deep neural networks are the ultimate expression of attempts at creating a perfect human brain. For the record, there may be no such thing as a perfect human brain. Flaws are what makes us fallible and human but that may not deter the architects of the modern world.

I agree this line of reasoning could smack of hyperbole, overblown reality and downright lies. But, honestly, think about it-It could be true. Crowdsourcing is so pervasive and reflexive that it almost appears normal and invisible.

The Bottom Line — disconnect yourself from the Internet, grid, matrix whatever you would like to call it and spend time reflecting. Become old school for a while. My recommendation- meditate, meet people the old fashioned way, travel (in reality and not using VR), exercise, read books to get in touch with your human side because last time I checked technology was meant to free up our faculties to focus on more creative and human pursuits. So, I leave you with an extremely powerful yet antiquated, cliched, beaten to death, frequently asked question for Siri, Cortana, Alexa, HAL and an eternity of Aritificial Man Fridays:

What is the purpose of life, you say?

Thank you for reading. I value your time and I strive to balance real life learning with enjoyment.

If you think this article is educational, please share it with your followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media. You can follow me on Twitter: @akothari_mba

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Abhishek Kothari

Futurist@The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba