distributing computing between humans and computers

While human brains and computers are often considered to be general purpose technologies, like any real technology, brains and computers have physical structures and operating designs that generate constraints and imply trade-offs across tasks. A computer program cannot easily read an image containing distorted text, but a human can. Thus requiring blog commenters to pass a CAPTCHA lessens automated blog comment spam.

Distributing computing between humans and computers is an important aspect of efficient problem-solving. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk provides a general marketplace for distributing computation to persons. Luis von Ahn is designing games for humans that produce both fun play and symbolic work that computers perform relatively badly. Some examples are the ESP Game, which generates image labels, and Peekaboom, which generates descriptions of objects within an image.

Sensory form is an aspect of distributing computing between humans and computers. Consider, for example, women-oriented social drama programming. Prior to the widespread availability of television, such radio programming was highly popular. This type of program shifted almost completely to television when television became widely available. With the exception of sensory modes, the radio and television programs were formally quite similar stimuli. Why did persons prefer the audio-visual mode (television) over the audio-only mode (radio)? A plausible explanation, it seems to me, is that the bodily cost of making sense of conventional drama via the audio-visual experience of television is less than that of making sense of the same drama presented solely through the audio channel of radio. Put differently, image computation was shifted from persons to television studios.

The Internet, by connecting huge numbers of persons and computers, enables a tremendous possibilities for distributing computing among persons and computers. Tim O’Reilly declares:

As the symbiosis between humans and computers becomes deeper, and at a larger scale, we’re going to see problems that were formerly construed as “hard AI” suddenly broken, not because computers themselves have become intelligent, but because humans and computers have gotten better at working together.

Getting humans and computers to work together better requires more thinking about what computers do well, and what humans want to do, and do well.

new media in action

Last Sunday a Galbi Think web 2.0 social interacter sent me this email:

Ok! so you’re supposed to be this hotshot economist and analyst. So tell me this, a communication policy should serve to protect cultural values, provide information and safeguard public interests. After all these years, we are now being ruled by the influence weilded by six media giants, and the world of communication is at their mercy. Communication is important because it affects economy, awareness, social behaviour etc. It affects every sphere of life. But it is being used by governments for their own strategic purposes and it is being maipulated by business to advance the interest of the enterprise. The US Government wants to eavesdrop on its own public, Bell South wants to limit the internet’s openness… and media giants want to keep participation marginal

So why not have no policy at all. What happens then.

I responded:

Thanks for your comment. I don’t think that having no policy at all is possible. If it is possible, I have no idea what happens then.

A lot of great things are happening in the communications industry. You might check out, for example, MySpace, youtube, and Second Life.

Perhaps the helpful, active, and interactive interacters who visit this blog could provide a better response. Offer your help as a comment for free.

presence in communication services

A lot of interesting thinking and experiments are now going on concerning presence in communication. Mike Gotta’s post entitled “Presence: Complex, Pervasive And Evasive” highlights the business case for presence. Which industry structure do you think is better for private investment, competition among many firms, and innovation: an industry in which firms compete to supply a commodity service like per-minute voice communication, or an industry in which firms compete to provide a “complex, pervasive, and evasive” good? My economics training suggests the latter!

Person-state definitions, attention management, and impression management are aspects of presence that shouldn’t be over-emphasized and that are probably better hidden in the design of services than presented as tasks that users must manage. In person, too active impression management goes by the name of being a phony. That would be a horrible insult to be associated with a Telco 2.0 service.

Moreover, as Craig Roth insightfully notes, if Captain Picard doesn’t have effective interruption management technology, businesses today probably should be cautious about the prospects for developing it.

A service designed for persons to use to broadcast a text message answering one simple question, “What are you doing?” produced this message:

oooooh la la! Biz is looking like a well-dressed handsome man! ^_^ Ready sweep Livvy off of her feet…again! [Twitter]

That’s not literally state information, but it does make for a strong sense of presence.

where is the wind?

A more propitious direction for presence is better communicating persons acting in the world, expressing themselves where they are. Georgia O’Keeffe beautifully conveys this idea:

I have picked flowers where I found them.
Have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of
wood where there were seashells and rocks and pieces of
wood that I liked.
When I found the beautiful white bones
on the desert I picked them up and took them home too.
I have used these things to say what is to me the
wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.

[from exhibition catalogue, 1944]

Perhaps countries where persons have less experience using old-fashioned phones, and less experience using old-fashioned cameras, will more quickly embrace new communication possibilities.

custom regulatory searches

To help persons find information about communication regulations around the globe, I’ve set up a Google custom search that covers about 380 websites of national communications regulators, government websites, and intergovernmental organizations. These websites are not all in a common language, some are not limited to communications regulation, and some relevant websites may be missing. Nonetheless, this search might be a useful starting point for pulling up some information about regulatory approaches to particular problems.

I’ve also set up a search covering U.S. state regulatory commissions and associations of state regulators. Many persons outside the U.S., and some within the U.S., do not realize that state commissions play major roles in communication regulation in the U.S. Regulatory geography and jurisdiction are important issues that deserve more serious attention than they typically receive.