Crowd computing

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Eric Brown, co-author of "The Effective CIO", alluded to the term "Crowdcomputing" in 2009.[1] It is an overarching term which defines the myriad tools that enable idea sharing, non-hierarchical decision making and the full utilization of the world’s massive "cognitive surplus”-the ability of the world’s population to collaborate on large, sometimes global projects.[2] Crowd computing brings together the strengths of crowdsourcing, automation, distributed computing, and machine learning.

Prof. Rob Miller of MIT further defines crowd computing as “harnessing the power of people out in the web to do tasks that are hard for individual users or computers to do alone. Like cloud computing, crowd computing offers elastic, on-demand human resources that can drive new applications and new ways of thinking about technology.” [3]

Crowd computing offers a harmonious amalgamation of both cloud computing and crowdsourcing. It combines human intelligence (the crowd) with artificial intelligence (the cloud) in order to produce quality results at unprecedented speed. Scientists and historians are already utilizing this process to complete time-consuming research, and many businesses are beginning to realize its potential for cutting costs and increasing productivity. Crowd computing very well may be on its way to changing the way humans live and operate in our society by using artificial intelligence in combination with the human mind.[4]

Srini Devadas, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, asserts that “crowd computing will complement the cloud as one of two burgeoning infrastructures that will enable the world to become more ‘collectively intelligent’.”[5]

Four key process and technology innovations are the core of crowdcomputing:

  • Microtasking. Work is broken into small components that are easier to complete by the crowd.
  • Automation. Machines complete repetitive work, leaving judgement work to humans
  • Hybrid Crowd: Higher value work and a greater volume of work can be completed when specialists, crowd workers and machines work together.
  • AI: Machine learning creates a cascade of knowledge that enables more and more automation and continuously optimizes cost and quality.[6]

Crowdcomputing tools and platforms[edit]

Businesses and society in general increasingly rely on the combined intelligence, knowledge, bandwidth and life experiences of the ‘crowd to improve processes, make decisions, identify solutions to complex problems and monitor changes in consumer taste.[7] Companies like Amazon and Google saw early-on the potential for crowd computing. In 1995, Amazon created Mechanical Turk to deal with its internal problem of sorting its massive inventory. The platform organizes people from around the globe to ‘work efficiently as a giant machine.”[8] Google uses a captcha to help digitize books. Major sites like Facebook and Twitter rely on the crowd to power the translation that spreads their service around the globe.[8]


An early example is when, at the end of the 18th century, the British Royal Astronomers distributed spreadsheets by mail, asking the crowd to help them create maps of the stars and the seas. It reached its height in the United States during the 1930s, when the government employed hundreds of “human computers” to work on the WPA and the Manhattan Project. [9]

In 2011, crowd-computing was used to speed up translation of ancient documents first discovered in the late 1800s by a team of British archeologists in Egypt -- some half million pieces of 2000-year-old papyrus, each with remarkably well-preserved text requiring translation. The pieces were shipped from the desert to Oxford University, where generations of scholars have been working to decipher their writings ever since. After over a hundred years, only about 15 percent of the collection had been completed. These manuscripts contain remarkably significant pieces of history, including the controversial Gospel of Thomas and the lost comedies of Athenian playwright Menander. In 2011, however, the scholars decided to speed up the process by leveraging the cloud. They launched a website, Ancient Lives, with a game that tasks members to translate small bits of the text from home. As of November 2011, users had already provided 4 million transcriptions, helping to identify Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plutarch’s “On the Cleverness of Animals” and much more.[10]

An additional early example of crowd computing was the discovery of a gold deposit location at the Moribund Red Lake Mine in Northern Ontario. Using all available data, the company, Goldcorp, Inc. had been unable to identify the location of new deposits on their land. In desperation, the CEO put all relevant geological data on the web and created a contest, open to anyone in the world. An obscure firm in Australia used their software and algorithms to crack the puzzle. As a result, the company found an additional 8 million ounces of gold at the mine. The only cost was the nominal prize money awarded.[11]

The modern day microchip made using large crowds for mechanical computation less attractive in the second half of the twentieth century. However, as the volume of data online grew, it became clear to companies like Amazon and Google that there were some things humans were simply better at doing than machines.[8]

See also[edit]


  • Brown, Eric J. and William A. Yarberry, Jr. (2009). The Effective CIO. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.
  • Shirky, Clay. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010) - ISBN 978-1-59420-253-7
  • Surowiecki, J. (2005). The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Random House, Inc.
  • Cheminformatics Crowd Computing for Tuberculosis Drug Discovery (3C4TB) Project Page

More References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Eric J. and William A. Yarberry, Jr. (2009). The Effective CIO. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.
  2. ^ Shirky, Clay. TED Talk June 2010
  3. ^ Miller, Rob. Microsoft research talk, June 19, 2013;
  4. ^;
  5. ^ Computer News Middle East, “Crowd-Computing-the future?”, January 19, 2012.
  6. ^ “Enabling Exponential Data Productivity: How Crowd Computing bridges the gap between Big Data and the enterprise”. White Paper, May 2013;
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Popper, Ben (17 April 2012). "Crowd computing taps artificial intelligence to revolutionize the power of our collective brains". Venture Beat. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  9. ^ Popper, Ben (17 April 2012). "Crowd computing taps artificial intelligence to revolutionize the power of our collective brains". Venture Beat. Retrieved 8 June 2012
  10. ^;
  11. ^ Hancock, Denis. (6 Nov. 2008) “The Wisdom of Crowds vs. Uniquely Qualified Minds”. Wikinomics.

Further reading[edit]

PKD Pramanik, S Pal, G Pareek, S Dutta, P Choudhury, "Crowd Computing: The Computing Revolution," in Crowdsourcing and Knowledge Management in Contemporary Business Environments, [ed.] R Lenart-Gansiniec, pp. 166-198, IGI Global, 2018. (DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4200-1.ch009)