Saturday, May 30, 2009

Communities Of Choice - The Avenue For 21st Century Breakthroughs

I have written consistently and proven the point that there is a myth called wisdom of the crowds. Perhaps it is a marketing term now engulfing the tera-intellect.

An excellent example in the Wired magazine article "There's Power In The Puzzle" here, highlights yet again how the power of communities formed by choice can drive breakthroughs past the imagination of the initiators of the idea for the community. The article discusses a SETI@home like program yet driven from a gamer's perspective, i.e. putting the people in the center of the process. The result is a game called Foldit -

"It simply serves up a multicolored knot of spirals and clumps—a 3-D render of a protein. Players use the cursor to grab, bend, pull, and wiggle the chain of amino acids anywhere along its length, folding the protein into its optimum shape. The only rules are based on physics—opposite charges attract, atomic bonds have limited angles of rotation, and the parts of the molecule that stick to water tend to point outward. The closer your model's properties adhere to those rules, the more points you get."

Yet, the important part of this activity was:

"Working on test proteins for which Baker already knew the structures, folders quickly started to make friends via the in-game chat channel. They shared insights and half-finished puzzles; teams emerged, and collective efforts proved far more successful than any solo folder. A member of the leading team named Jason Kuznicki ... set up a wiki that Popović adopted as Foldit's official manual. "We even built a mini-Facebook for them," he says."

I believe the 21st century is going to be about "communities of choice" driving breakthrough innovation. The internet will continue to flatten the intellectual landscape and making collaboration ubiquitous, where a student who has completed the MIT computer science course work through MIT's open-courseware in Vietnam's low socio-economic class (see excellent article here) can engage in direct scientific analysis with individuals independent of geography.

Note that the winner of the game of Foldit who developed a complex protein is a 13 year old.

No comments: