Human computation, the basis of which is discovering what tasks humans can do to make computers smarter, may someday be responsible for making computers not only smarter, but significantly smarter than humans.
Human computation has many applications. For example, computers aren’t very good at identifying what appears in an image, but humans are. To make online image searches more accurate, von Ahn developed the ESP game, which led to the creation of Google’s Image Labeler, and finally the compilation of five different games: Games With A Purpose (GWAP.com).
The model of game play works well. The games are fun, foster bonds and competition, and are free. These are all qualities that have attracted high numbers of players – thus, creating a strong effort to make not only image searches more durable, but also bring computers closer to thinking like humans.
The question is, when will all our game playing lead to a smarter computer that no longer needs our help?
In June 2006, von Ahn was invited to the Google campus to give a TechTalk lecture on human computation and brought up some interesting points about the bond and tension between humans and machines:
At one point von Ahn jokes that the interactions he’s created through GWAP could lead to a world similar to the one depicted in The Matrix; that is, one in which machines rule the universe and generate power from human brains.
Although his speculation appeared light-hearted, when I ask von Ahn what he thinks now, he asserts: “I completely believe computers will become every bit as intelligent as humans, possibly even more intelligent. I don’t see why not: the brain is a machine, we just don’t understand how it works yet.”
This past June, Google-owned YouTube launched a new way to search for political videos on its YouChoose page:
Using speech recognition technology, the new function allows users to search for videos based on keywords that are spoken in the video. The resulting videos include yellow markers on the play bar to indicate where the keyword is uttered inviting the user to jump to that spot in the video. And if the user mouses over the highlighted area, a small overlay pops up with the phrase that includes the keyword, to provide some context.
I just came across and wanted to share this fascinating video montage of our planet as seen from space that features footage from the BBC’s hugely popular television series Planet Earth.
Generated by Burrell Durrant Hifle (BDH), a multi-disciplinary design company, these scenes stitch together many high-resolution photographs from NASA. It took BDH and the production team over four years to piece everything together – talk about patience.
While this isn’t anything particularly advanced, watching it I’m reminded of just how crazy limited (one little sphere in the universe), but also how crazy dynamic our earth is. In the future I expect that we’ll continue to get better and finer images of the planet, but this six-minute video is well worth the watch and opens the mind to the more radical perspectives that we’ll be generating in the coming years.
Over the past few months Americans have been trying to grasp what each presidential nominee will bring to the table once inaugurated as our Commander-in-Chief this coming January.
With looming issues that include the economy, the war in Iraq, and gas prices, there has been little emphasis placed on how either John McCain or Barack Obama feel about the government’s role in science and technology despite a growing group of citizens who want the issue debated.. These individuals believe that the future of America’s science and technology sectors are crucial to the success of our economy, world image, and ultimately our well-being.
In its effort to catalog and effectively share the world’s
information, Google continues to improve its dynamic representation
of earth and has now extended its reach to cities and towns.
The first time I experienced Google Earth, I was pretty
impressed. Accessing satellite information, I was able to navigate
most any location on the planet that I was interested in, from a
bird’s eye view. Of course the first thing I did was check out my
street, the homes of my past, and landmarks around my town.
Next I was introduced to Street View, a
visualization composed of photos taken from automobiles that allows
full 3D street navigation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when
Street View was at last integrated with Google Maps, that I could
travel down my street take a glance at my house and my car parked
neatly on the curb. That was really cool to me. I found myself
wondering where I was the time the photos was taken, and being
thankful they hadn’t caught me outside my
house in an early morning stupor.
After some light research I found that Google isn’t just
concerned with satisfying my curiosity. It has found ways to make
money with this technology while expanding its functionality for
important, decision-making parties.
Google introducing advanced versions of the platform with
Pro ($400/year), a collaborative tool for commercial and
professional use and Google Earth
Plus ($20/year) for everyday map enthusiasts. It also provides
non-profit organizations with Earth Outreach, a
program that allows organizations to map their projects to help
In March 2008, Google Earth introduced Cities in 3D which is
unsurprisingly a complete 3D visualization of numerous cities. To
contribute to this effort, users can submit and share renditions of
structures and buildings using Google’s SketchUp. The program
primarily relies on city governments to submit their 3D information
electronically (for free) and invites them to review the
The benefits for local governments seem rather extensive. They
include: engaging the public in planning, fostering economic
development, boosting tourism, simplifying navigation analysis,
enhancing facilities management, supporting security and crime
prevention, and facilitating emergency management.
Lucky for us the sun is a wonderful source of clean energy. Its
rays can be harnessed and transformed into electricity using
semi-conductor-based solar cells that power homes, buildings, and
even transportation. Researchers have spent decades trying to
refine this process.
Recently, MIT researchers have made a
significant mark in this endeavor. Associate Professor Marc A.
Baldo, leader of the project, and a team of four graduate students
of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,
have constructed a cost-efficient solar concentrator device based
on a failed 1970s model that uses glass and dye. In practical
terms, the concentrator device is a high-efficiency window.
Currently, solar concentrators on the market track the sun’s
rays using large mobile mirrors that are both expensive to arrange
and to maintain. Furthermore, Baldo explains, the solar cells that
house these concentrators must be cooled, thus the entire assembly
Baldo’s new solar concentrator increases the amount of usable
energy by a factor of 40, all while cutting costs by reducing the
amount of solar cell, which because its base is silicon is rather
The device consists of glass coated with a mixture of relatively
inexpensive dyes that absorbs the light and re-emits it on a new
wavelength into the glass to be collected by the solar cells, which
are located on the edges of the glass.
Baldo says the 1970s model failed in two ways: the collected
light was absorbed before it reached the edges of the glass and the
dyes were unstable.
Using optical techniques developed for lasers and other diodes,
the MIT engineers found the perfect ratio
of dyes that would allow the light that is absorbed and emitted to
travel a longer distance before reaching the solar cells.