Monday, November 27, 2006
Anyone who's been in the linux world for a while is familiar with the beowulf cluster. This is where you connect a bunch of cheap computers to act like a supercomputer by ditributing processing.
I've always been facinated by the idea of cybernetics, using machines to augment our abilities. Not just physically, like with mechanics but, also intellectually. One common example is how search engines help software developers to have a vast repository of knowledge readily available. It acts as memory augmentation. Or, look as PDAs for contacts and scheduling, its memory augmentation. Many of the concepts of cybernetics come from the idea of letting the computer do the boring stuff so that we, humans, can get on to the more interesting things (like thinking).
As the web has become ubiquitous, we find that the opposite starts to happen as well. People posting in forums and blogs adds a bit of human intelligence to support the machines. This is coming formalized with services like the Amazon Mechanical Turk as 'artificial artificial intelligence'. Think of it as machine intelligence aumented with human intelligence. There are some tasks that are just plain difficult for machines to do but, trivial for humans.
Back to the beowulf cluster. There are many popular projects that use distributed computing. Things like SETI@home or D2OL, where spare comuting cycles (of millions of people) are used to work on big problems or large amounts of processing. Most of these essentially, run in a screensaver (while the computer is bored) so as not to affect the average owner. Ok, simple, millions of idle computers solving problems. So, why not broaden this to a human cluster. Turkers (as problems solvers on the services are called) generally work on problems while doing others things, like watching tv, or while bored. They are essentially sharing their 'spare cycles' to work on problems. The rewards are financial. They can also post questions for others to solve. yada yada yada
Iamagine what can happen in a world where you (or anybody) can get 10,000 people thinking about a problem with but a few keystrokes. A network of 10,000 human brains. The reverse can also happen. You can spend your bored time helping others with their problems/questions.