Kickstart This!

By Joshua Dillen

Our generation’s lexicon is full of words that confuse our parents, let alone our grandparents. Among such words is crowdsourcing, a fastly growing and increasingly popular word and practice. Officially, crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from an online community. In common terms, a crowdsourced project is one that is funded from online campaigns or worked on by masses of “common” people. In a tech savvy generation with unprecedented access to the internet, crowdsourcing is becoming an increasingly powerful tool to accomplish just about anything imaginable.

    Crowdsourcing is lauded for its ability to enable the seemingly impossible. Reminiscent of the Pixar film Up, a group of scientists from Norway are working on a wearable device called No More Woof. It is a dog collar that can translate their thoughts for just sixty-five dollars. The scientists are currently running an Indiegogo campaign in an attempt to raise ten thousand dollars for the project. Having identified patterns of canine technology, the scientists plan to use EEG recordings that hook up to a computer speaker to give our furry friends a human voice. The device will not be able to translate whatever is on your dog’s mind, but it will be able to convey a small amount of basic thoughts. While No More Woof will not enable a full on conversation, it is a step in that direction.

    Crowdsourcing does not only utilize the funds of large crowds, but it can also use their minds. A game called EteRNA set out on a mission to crack the secrets of RNA folding, a question that has long puzzled scientists. Players would attempt to build an RNA molecule in the game, and the developers of the game would test their results in real life, giving real data back to the player. At first, the game seemed as though it would not be able to live up to its grand expectations. However, the players began to work smarter. They dug deep into their data to try and find its meaning and communicated with other players from around the world. With time, the humans became better at this process than complex folding programs on computers. While the individual mind of a “normal” person may not be able to make scientific breakthroughs, a collaboration of minds can accomplish amazing things.

    On the popular crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, projects anywhere in the spectrum from practical to bizarre are funded by internet goers who deem the project worthy or not. The strength of Kickstarter is its ability to draw microtransactions. While a dollar seems inconsequential on its own, when ten thousand people part with their spare change, some truly incredible projects can be accomplished. Instead of seeking out one or two investors to drop a large amount of cash on a project and expect a return, companies can be funded by massive groups of people who expect nothing to come of their five dollar donation.