Humanity and Technology

"How is this for low: Elite computer scientists are using highly addictive computer games to trick unsuspecting Web users -- possibly including children -- into toiling without pay for some of the world's richest companies on stupefyingly dull grunt work.

"It's all true. Though, in fairness, nothing nefarious is going on at all.

"The scientists are part of a minimovement known by the oxymoronic name of 'human computation.' The idea is that because there are many tasks that humans still do better than computers, why not just get people to do them? Often, the best way to do just that is to make a game out of it.

"That was the insight of Luis von Ahn, a 28-year-old professor at Carnegie Mellon University who is the creative force behind a Web hit known as the ESP Game, at The site has had more than 130,000 visitors and has lately inspired other researchers to try the same thing…

"To what extent is this use of humans to dot the I's that computers can't themselves dot a retreat from the grand idea of computer scientists to have machines spare people from just this sort of work?

"Professor von Ahn says it's just a stopgap; that in 20 years, at least in the case of vision and images, all of these problems will have been solved, and we won't need the human labor. But he concedes that result is contingent upon a research breakthrough, the likes of which he can't even begin to describe. Absent such a bolt from heaven, even 20 years might not be enough time, at least in the field of computer vision and image recognition, and human beings will likely be needed for much longer."

(“Computer Scientists Pull a Tom Sawyer To Finish Grunt Work.” Lee Gomes. Wall Street Journal: June 27, 2007. pg. B.1)

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