We do indeed live in a Brave New World. And even though things haven’t yet turned out quite as bleak and dystopian as Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel may have imagined they would, his title still feels apropos in some ways.
The internet has made this a time when information zips around the world in a blink of an eye, and linking digital arms with thousands is as easy as talking into the camera of the nearest smartphone. For that matter, it feels like almost everybody wants in on that let-your-voice-be-heard action. And there are a lot of people, from savvy business leaders to forward-thinking modern-day inventors, who are pretty happy about that join-the-chorus enthusiasm. In fact, they’re doing everything they can to make the most of it.
A quick example of what I’m talking about can be illustrated with that new CBS show Wisdom of the Crowd that our own Paul Asay reviewed not long ago. It features a Silicon Valley tech genius who invests his fortune in a new digital platform that uses input from thousands of roving smartphone users to solve puzzling crimes.
Now, we may not have that kind of setup in the real world quite yet, but there are tons of other real crowdsourced endeavors that are shooting for an equally fruitful outcome.
One of them is a “citizen science web portal” called Zooniverse that relies on science-loving Joes and Janes out there to put their virtual heads together and work on outer space conundrums. Zooniverse’s Moon Zoo crowdsourcing project, for example, called on the internet to study and organize high-resolution lunar images. At this point some four million lunar images have been poured over and studied by that crowd of rookie researchers.
In the business world, companies such as General Mills and Anheuser-Busch have been tapping into the wisdom of the connected crowd, too. General Mills reportedly gained insights into new product ideas and ways to improve its digital presence thanks to thousands of online commenters. And Anheuser-Busch sought input from more than 25,000 collaborators to develop a new line of lager. (The company also opened a video-production unit to utilize 35,000 crowdsourced videographers from around the world.)
On the school front, a project called MyMachine asked internet-linked primary school kids to come up with “dream machine” concepts that were then sorted through by some college design students. After that, a group of high schoolers took the top designs and built prototypes for everything from a self-making bed to a recycling robot.
Hey, even the U.S. Army is getting in on the action. According to The Atlantic, the Army is doling out a new video game called Operation Overmatch to scads of users—most of whom are soldiers—to potentially “upend how business is done in defense contracting.”
So, what’s the point of this gameplay? Well, the article suggests that the Army wants to get tens of thousands of soldiers playing, study the subsequent millions of hours of gameplay per year and therein “generate rigorous data sets and test hypotheses.” One officer said the project could shift the Army’s technology-development equation from telling soldiers what scientists and engineers think they can do, to seeing what soldiers can do with potential new tech and weapons.
Of course, those few examples are only the tip of the crowdsourcing iceberg. And what a quickly spreading berg it seems to be. Why, you may soon find yourself joining other curious minds on the internet to crowdsource the building blocks for the next even braver new world … or at least maybe help snag a passing crook or two.