There’s no “I” in team, but now, more than ever, there’s a UI, as companies are taking advantage of an era where the Internet lives in everyone’s pocket, implementing apps and basing their business models on the concept of connectivity and the idea that anyone with a smartphone can contribute to their cause. This is a practice known as crowdsourcing.
Now in theory, crowdsourcing isn’t a new phenomenon. The term was actually coined back in 2005 by Wired’s Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, and is thoroughly defined in a 2006 article:
[Crowdsourcing is] the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.
But while the idea of crowdsourcing has been officially recognized for about a decade, it’s a practice that’s picked up momentum increasingly in the last few years, with some of the biggest names in business taking advantage of the smartphone-wielding public to help them run their companies, gather necessary data and even revolutionize their technologies.
One model—the independent contractor concept that, at this point, almost everyone has taken advantage of—includes rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, which rely on crowdsourcing for their fleets, and delivery apps like Favor and Postmates, which essentially employ anyone with a smartphone and the means to deliver a DVD, donuts or Diet Pepsi directly to users’ doorsteps. (There might also be a background check involved…but you get the idea.) Even Amazon is relying on crowdsourcing in a sense with Flex, which enlists members of the public to deliver Amazon Prime Now packages.
Google’s Waze, meanwhile, is reliant on scaled usage, and creates optimal routes based on information input by users: traffic accidents, police postings, and average speeds obtained from passive usage of the app. The beauty of this is that the more people download and use Waze, the more accurate the information becomes and—by proxy—the more useful it is to the user. In terms of a Chaotic Moon tie-in, consider the premise of our wheelchair fitness tracker. Not only does this collect and calculate health and fitness data for the user, but it’s also designed to gather and utilize other data—incline, decline, etc.—for wider use through terrain mapping. Once enough information is recorded passively by the device’s user, it can be used by others to plan routes of desired strenuousness, speed, etc. The result is information that can benefit everyone.
On a larger level, companies like Google and Facebook are taking advantage of crowdsourcing in hopes of accelerating progress and facilitating breakthroughs via the technical skills of the public. Google open sourced TensorFlow, their machine-learning system, in November, while Facebook announced last week that they’re open sourcing their AI platform as well. Instead of relying on the employees on their payroll to determine the future of this technology, they’re harvesting knowledge and know-how from essentially anyone who wants to contribute. (This also serves as a useful recruiting tool for the two companies, allowing them to handpick extraordinary talent for their teams.) And on another big-name AI note, news broke this week that Elon Musk and others are investing a solid $1 billion to form OpenAI, a non-profit organization dedicated to open-sourcing AI research. The institute released an announcement stating the following:
Because of AI’s surprising history, it’s hard to predict when human-level AI might come within reach. When it does, it’ll be important to have a leading research institution which can prioritize a good outcome for all over its own self-interest.
Basically, they’re using crowdsourcing in a similar way to Google and Facebook, relying on the public to help artificial intelligence progress, but they claim their intention is also a sort of insurance policy against one all-powerful entity possessing superior AI technology…and, naturally, the killer robots that might come along with that.
In a nutshell, crowdsourcing is a practice with the potential to improve user and business experiences in countless settings and it’s one that, as we grow increasingly more connected, is likely to become implemented in more and more situations and industries. Companies have access to a seemingly endless pool of resources, individuals are empowered to become entrepreneurs, and consumers are provided a service that, in many cases, is more convenient and efficient than ever before.
Because taxis, traffic and actually setting foot in a store? Psh, that’s so 20th Century.