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Tagged with Collective Intelligence

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Climate CoLab thinks you could be the one to fix global warming

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This is part of a series exploring how collective intelligence can create a better world. Read the whole series here.

Think you’ve landed on the solution to the global warming crisis, if only you could get someone to hear you out? Tired of your friends and family suddenly remembering “other plans” and darting off the moment you start laying out your glorious ideas? Finally, there's an alternative to tormenting your near-and-dear: Climate CoLab, a project from the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, wants to provide you -- yes, you! -- with a listening ear, through a platform that makes it easier for everyone to come up with solutions to climate change.

Why are they so interested in what you have to say? Because, as Climate CoLab principal investigator Thomas Malone sees it, top-down approaches like international treaties or national legislation don't seem like they're going to get us out of our planetary pickles. So he’s decided to see what us regular schmos can come up with, instead.

By crowdsourcing ideas on everything from enacting carbon taxes to reducing bus emissions and designing more efficient buildings, Climate CoLab hopes to dig up “new angles, new perspectives, new ways of looking at things,” the lab's community manager, Laur Fisher, says.

CoLab staffers do this by organizing contests where anyone can submit a creative climate solution. Then they call on expert judges to weed through and pull out the schemes that actually might be feasible (because, as Malone explains, while crowds are very good at coming up with out-of-the box ideas, we're not always very practical). Finally, the judges choose one set of winners, then turn to crowdsourcing again, letting users vote for their favorites. This not only creates a way for more people to get involved, but could also hone in on which solutions are socially viable, because, while groups of people aren't necessarily the most analytical, “crowds can do a good job of assessing what crowds want,” Malone says -- an important thing to know when trying to garner support in order to put a plan into action. 

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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What all our computers together can tell us about climate change

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This is part of a series exploring how collective intelligence can create a better world. Read the whole series here

As I type these very words, I’m helping scientists figure out the future of climate change. I’m doing it by running a program that I downloaded from Climateprediction.net (CPDN), a group that’s using my laptop’s extra processing power to forecast how global warming is going to impact heat waves in Australia.

They’re not just doing it on my skimpy Mac (sorry, Apple -- sleek as the Air is, it's still underwhelming when up against the sorts of computers that normally get this kind of job done). They’ve got tens of thousands of other people’s laptops and desktops involved too. The technique is called "distributed computing," and it's being used to help researchers in everything from the search for extraterrestrial life to understanding how proteins fold.

Before I get into the details of climate models and computing, a quick note about the safety of this kind of thing, for those of you who are (wisely) wary of giving strangers access to your computer. CPDN is a project of Oxford University -- a fairly reputable outfit, in my book. David Anderson, who leads the the project that developed the software CPDN uses to distribute its models (the project is called BOINC) says they use a technique called code signing to protect against hackers. Over ten years of operating on about 500,000 computers, Anderson says there have thus far been no security incidents involving BOINC.

Ok, then, so why do these scientists want in to my computer in the first place? Well, if we want to get a firmer grasp on what’s in stock for our planet, we need climate scientists to run models -- and those models require a heck of a lot of computing power.

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Oh, Snapchat: Your smartphone just became a climate scientist

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This is part of a series exploring how collective intelligence can create a better world. Read the whole series here.

Picture this: You’re out on a hike in Mt. Diablo State Park, just outside San Francisco. Upon reaching a nice viewpoint, you think, "Hey, this would look pretty sweet on my Instagram feed." So you whip out the ol’ iPhone to snap a selfie. Then you notice a sign with an L-shaped bracket next to it. The sign asks you to fit your phone into the frame, pointing your camera lens at the drab brown hill across the way, take a photo and upload it to Flickr, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #morganfire01.

“Why would anyone want a picture of that?” you ask.

Mt. Diablo
Adriel Hampton
Mt. Diablo

Turns out, it’s a project that was put together by Nerds for Nature, a group of civic hackers who do good for the Earth by connecting researchers, enviros, and tech whizzes to figure out new ways to protect our planet. The Mt. Diablo project is designed to monitor the area’s ecological recovery after it was toasted by a wildfire last September. Once you tag and upload the photos, researchers can easily compile them into a crowdsourced time-lapse series that will show the process of vegetation growing back. As wildfires become increasingly common with climate change, a project like this could help researchers determine the longer-term impacts these fires will have.

“We see people with their smartphones as a potential volunteer censor network in the park,” Nerds for Nature co-founder Dan Rademacher explains.

The Mt. Diablo fire recovery project is just one example of how the internet and tech enables a new kind of citizen science – science that’s done by non-professionals. Citizen science is by no means new, but over the last decade it has become popular enough that the Citizen Science Association, which was created last February, already has more than 1,400 members -- people who are drawn in by the potential of citizen science to transform the way we look at research, and get the public involved in fresh new ways.  

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Brain storm

With collective intelligence, scientists learn it’s your thoughts that count

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Nikki Burch

This is the first post in a series on how collective intelligence can make the world a better place. Read the whole collection here.

When it comes to climate change, there’s a lot of room for feeling glum. Not only is it a massive problem, it’s hard to understand – and even harder to know what to do about it.

“But there’s also at least one reason for optimism,” says Thomas Malone, a professor in organization behavior at MIT: “Now it’s possible to address really big, hard, complicated problems by harnessing the collective intelligence of thousands of people, at a scale and with a degree of collaboration that was never possible before.”

OK, “collective intelligence” sounds fancy – but what is it? Wikipedia it. No, seriously, search Wikipedia and not only will you find collective intelligence defined as “shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of many individuals,” but you’ll tap into collective intelligence just by reading that page. Just think: Who created that entry? In a way, by being Wikipedia users, we did!