If you’re wondering if all of this is bringing us closer to the dreaded “sin- gularity,” in which computers finally surpass the power of the human brain, just recall Tim Berners-Lee’ s vision of a two-sided semantic web—one side being machine-based, the other, human-based. This “human cloud,” present all along, has been mostly lying dormant, at least in terms of its full potential for problem-solving and discovery. A tipping point may have finally been reached. According to Statista, this year will see a record 5 billion minds connected to the internet.
CoPs on steroids
The combined human and computing clouds will drive our core KM processes of search, collaboration, and discovery to new heights. For example, the James Webb telescope will generate yet another explosion of data—25 times the data stream of Hubble, its predecessor. This includes new images reaching to the far edges of the universe, both in time and space. While it’s true that algorithms can help crunch through the images, they will likely miss new, previously undiscovered, types of galaxy formations and other interesting anomalies. That still requires the unique skills (and brain capacity) of human astronomers.
Enter Galaxy Zoo (galaxyzoo.org), an online community of more than 91,000 amateur astronomers with the mission of searching through the vastness of space and identifying and classifying galax- ies (more than 166,000 different classes covering more than 60 million galaxies to date), while also helping scientists to better understand how they are formed. Even given all of the available computing power, scientists wouldn’t be able to make even a small fraction of their current discoveries without the help of such a dedicated online community of volunteers.
Even more remarkable, since its inception in 2007, Galaxy Zoo has expanded into a massive citizen-science community. Called The Zooniverse (zooinverse. org), more than 2.5 million volunteers have produced more than 708 million classifications in more than 100 different fields of study, from astronomy to zoology and everything in between.
Topcoder (topcoder.com) is another example of a highly successful human cloud. With more than 1.5 million qualified software developers, it calls itself “the Operating System for Talent,” with a stated mission of “revolutionizing how businesses access and execute with top digital talent.”
Opportunity for KM: Get in front of the two-sided semantic web by building systems, processes, and practices that bring together the power of 5 billion minds and the cloud. Just be prepared for the coming onslaught of innovation and discovery. This goes far beyond crowd-sourcing, CoPs, and the like. We KM’ers have a long legacy of capturing, sharing, and growing knowledge. Here's a tremendous opportunity to take those skills and practices to even greater levels.