Saturday, 2 March 2013

Cure cancer? Find a crowd

Bella writes: This weekend a charity got 40 computer developers in a room to figure out how to write a game which could help cure cancer.

They are trying to create a game which will simultaneously allow the public to analyse gene data. Cancer research produces colossal amounts of gene data that need to be analysed - a slow process: if large numbers of people analysed just one or two pieces of data each, this process could be speeded up enormously. So the idea of a game in which the players do this analysis was born.

According to Wikipedia, crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining ...  services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. Often used to subdivide tedious work ...”  

I love the idea that many heads are better than one.  In my teaching I try to remember that my students know collectively far more than I do as an individual. Small example: I wanted my PowerPoint presentation to run on a continuous loop in class but couldn’t figure out how to do it (not a techie, me...). I asked the class, got three suggestions from three students, each of which partially helped, and which together quickly resulted in success. Thanks guys. Larger example: I asked them to generate a list of books with unreliable narrators. They came up with a fantastically diverse list, including thrillers and 'classic' fiction (giving me lots more to read for the next few months...).

Crowdsourcing takes a little humility (really, I don’t have all the answers) and some guts to ask for help. But the results can be inspirational. It’s why I was so impressed with the idea behind Recaptcha earlier this year. And now I’m loving the way the people at Cancer Research UK are thinking too. 

May their venture be a huge success.  

(Now for this blog's own mini crowdsourcing experiment: if any of you literary people have more suggestions for stories with unreliable narrators, please let me know and I'll add them to the list above).

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