Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Forget about Artificial Intelligence, think Collective Intelligence

Amazon seems to be on roll these days. After announcing their Amazon Data Sets a few weeks ago they are back with a very cool new iPhone App. For me it isn't so much that Amazon has released yet another iphone app (YaiPa), but how they've enabled their customers to tap into what I'm calling the " Collective Intelligence".

Basically the app lets users take a photograph of any product they see in the real world. (Yes, the world outside the digital one, crazy I know) The photos are then uploaded to Amazon and given to a global network of (low paid) workers utilizing Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, crowd sourcing platform. For a small fee a collection of "actual humans" will try to match the photos with products for sale on According to a New York Times post, the results will not be instantaneous (between 5 minutes and 24 hours).

So why is this cool? Let's revisit the idea of collective intelligence, that of a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. Basically this is a subset of the concept of crowdsourcing, which has been around for a awhile. Until recently there really has a been an effective way to "programatically" tap into the greater community and more importantly there haven't been too many good examples of this used in the "real world".

What is interesting is up until now traditional applications haven't been really able to autonomically adjust itself based physical or digital demands. It's typically required human intervention (The website is slow, lets add another server). With the emergence of global cloud computing these formally static systems are beginning to become "infrastructure aware", the capability of automatically adjusting as demands and requirements change in realtime is quickly becoming the standard requirement of any modern IT environment. The next logical step as we move toward a technical singularity will be in combining a somewhat or fully aware infrastructure with the collective intelligence of humans. I feel this represents a crucial bridge between how intelligent technology will interact with both the digital and physical world around it, and more importantly how it will benefit the the people who use it.

As anyone familar with my various schemes, from Enomaly's open source elastic computing platform to Cloud Camp's community driven events to more recently my Cloud Interoperability Forum, my guiding principle has always been that technology is changing faster then any single human can adapt, no single person or company is as valuable as the community who supports it. I feel the ability to draw on the power of mass collaboration as a point of participation is ultimately more valuable then any workforce I might be able to assemble.

Amazon appears to be one of the few companies that grasps this concept and best of all, applies it as a kind of corporate mantra, "We are not what we sell but rather the community we sell to".

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