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ThinkCycle: Solving World Problems With A Cluster of Brains 161

Posted by timothy
from the hope-some-good-comes-out-of-it dept.
eaglemoon writes: "ThinkCycle is an MIT Media Lab project to apply SETI@Home principles to design problems for underserved communities. Only, intead of donating spare cpu cycles, you donate spare 'think cycles.' Their aim is to build a community of designers, inventors and innovators that want to collaborate on developing novel solutions to some what intractable problems like clean water access , cholera treatment and appropriate shelters. Their aim is to encourage an "open source" ethos for tough design and technology challenges."
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ThinkCycle: Solving World Problems With A Cluster of Brains

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  • by TimButterfield (16686) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @02:49PM (#3531879) Homepage
    That should probably be 'apply SETI@Home principles to design challenges." If the communites are underserved, they have enough problems already without designing more.
  • This sounds familiar (Score:1, Interesting)

    by roberto0 (242247)
    Wait. What is that called where people do things without some tangible benefit for themselves?
    Communism?
    No.
    Communitarianism? Maybe.
    Oh yeah...That was an episode of Star Trek Hoe could I forget?
    • What is that called where people do things without some tangible benefit for themselves?
      Communism? Fascism? Socialism? Theocracy? Totalitarianism?

      What is that called where people are free to voluntarily do things without some tangible benefit for themselves?
      Capitalism :)

      Seriously, to get back on topic, the "think cycle" idea sounds really neat, and I hope it contributes to some creative solutions to some very real problems.
    • Communism? Hmmm that would entail living in communes wouldn't it? I don't think there is any proposal in there that we start living in communes.

      Frankly I call it "nice" maybe even "fun". And since when is not getting paid not getting benefit? "Something to do" is often a benefit in and of itself. Never mind actually solving these problems will make life better for others... which doe shave an overall effect on the community at large.

      I mean really... when a friend asks you to help them move, do you respond with an hourly rate, or do you just show up ready to haul boxes? I know what I do.

      -Steve
    • Wait. What is that called where people do things without some tangible benefit for themselves?

      Academia.

      You've heard of universities and tenured professors, right? This is exactly what they do, day in and day out.

  • by lingqi (577227) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @02:54PM (#3531919) Journal
    you will be providing the lazy-boys w/ a hole cut out of the head rest, as well as the necessary implants to the back of my head where a spiky-thingy can be shoved, right? and for the hardcore there is always the "donate some spare electricity" version complete with plexiglass goo-bucket and full interface including "liquified dead" being "intraveneously fed" into my blood stream?

    cool
  • mirror site (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TimButterfield (16686) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @02:56PM (#3531938) Homepage
    In preparation for being slashdotted, they have already posted a mirror site [mit.edu] link.
  • intead of donating spare cpu cycles, you donate spare 'think cycles.'

    This is such a great idea, but why not also donate the use of spare CPU cycles also! Why not use this "open source ethos" for CPU power as well?
    • Why limit "open source ethos" to advancing the human race? Why not use it to get the average /. geek laid? Yes, all of you with your spare sex cycles, come together [no pun intended] and embace the wonder of the human body!

      * puts on his tin hat and hides under the desk *
  • Let a bunch of crazies loose solving the worlds problems with solutions such as this one for lack of clean water access - simply stick a hose on the tail pipe of one of those hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and follow it around with a jug, or maybe the whole waterworld thing.

    No seriously enough I think this is a wonderful idea, when I was in elementary school and junior high school our gifted class was a part of a program entitled "Future Problem Solvers of America" We would work on problems very much like the examples listed in this article. And I must say that for a bunch of 3rd-9th graders we did damn good and came up with a bunch of absolutely brilliant ideas. Now apply this over a group of people 10,000 times the size and of a wider age group and I'm sure that some of the ideas will be absolutely revolutionary and of a most cutting edge nature, and yes I'm sure there will be some crazies, but it's never the bad ideas that are remembered or discussed, it's always the brilliant ones, I think the guys over at MIT are on a very productive track with this idea, and I hope enough people get involved to really make a go of it.
  • ...problems is more CPU.
  • Now that's an opportunity to set up brainforge.net ala sourceforge.net
  • by toupsie (88295) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:01PM (#3531986) Homepage
    According to a press agent for Microsoft, MIT's project "ThinkCycle" is nothing more than a smoke screen for anti-capitalistic "Viral Thinking". Microsoft has long established thinking is best done for multinational corporations that are engaged in the accumulation of capital. Thinking outside of the confines of a corporation with a group is nothing more than anti-capitalism. Projects seeking to provide clean water and the treatment of cholera are just pretty window dressing of this Anti-American activity.
  • Ok..hmm. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by k98sven (324383) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:02PM (#3531990) Journal
    So this is a wonderful idea..
    I somehow do not see this working. Of course I'd be happy to be proved wrong, but how do they plan
    on breaking these big, complex, problems up into manageble pieces?

    How can they make all these peoples ideas work together without it all turning into a watered-
    down compromise-type idea without any edge?

    I, for one will be interested in seeing the
    results of this experiment..
    • Yes you need one big brain overseeing it all. Reminds me of the Voyager episode Thinktank.
    • Layers not slices - if that makes sense. You're not all trying to solve a slice of the same task. Everybody considers the same problem, people put forward possible solutions until some good ones are found. Then you take one of the proposed solutions and look at it in slightly more depth. What are the questions that it poses? Possible solutions for that? Eventually over time, constantly looking at the problem in slightly more depth, making decisions as it progresses, you'll hopefully end up with a basic solution. Although, I imagine unlike software, to actually put stuff in to practice will take a real-world team?
    • You break the problem down into economic, social, technical, political sorts of categories. SO one group(social) might be focused on what the people need, say they figure out the most pressing need is fresh water. Ok, we need the water, the economic group figures out how much can be afforded, or how to raise the money, the technical group designs the pumps, and the political group talks the local governemnts into allowin this to happen. some of these coud be done concurrently, some might have to go in a particualr order, but this is the easy part.
    • I agree that it's a good idea, but I'm doubtful also.

      My reasons are that even though Im a college dropout, Im still a decent programmer and can help on a variety of Open Source software projects without problems. Despite what the geek in the black t-shirt in the dark corner in the back of your office wants you to think, programming is NOT brain surgery or rocket-science. (Well, I guess some of it is, if you're working in a Hospital or for NASA, but for the vast majority of us, it's not.)

      However, the sort of problems they seem to want to solve require HARD science with real scientists, medics and mathemeticians. These guys are going to be a lot farther and fewer between than us hacks. The numbers just don't seem to be there for these type of project...

      But I could be, and hope I am, wrong.

      -Russ

    • Re:Ok..hmm. (Score:3, Insightful)

      Interestingly, these ideas are already being tackled. You can get an idea of how the workload is being broken up by reading an article on Low Tech Improving the 3rd World (Wired, April 2002, pages 108-115)

      The way it would work is that you figure out what all resources a project needs, then you break it down into appropriate parts. If you read the article you'll see what I mean. One example is a simple water pump - and they broke up the workload (some of it donated on other people's off time) by dividing it into materials, engineering, and distribution. Each member handled their own part until it was done.

      For this proposed project, you'll probably sign up by listing your areas of expertise (like a resume), and then when a project is proposed, you search through the skill sets until you find what you need, and then you assign that particular person to "Think" on that part of the problem and then report in when they're done. Its not really that different than working in a team. Now your team may truly be distributed among the world.

      At least, that's how I think it could be done.
  • by Mysticalfruit (533341) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:03PM (#3532008) Journal
    His infant son recently passed away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and he's been enlisting people who've got some spare time to throw it at creating a baby monitor that can be used to collect statistics so in time, that information can be used to determine what symptoms cause SIDS. So far he's gotten tons of responses.
  • by NineNine (235196) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:04PM (#3532011)
    Sorry, but any "spare cycles" my brain has are going towards figuring out how I'm gonna pay my bills in this piss-poor economy.
  • Sounds like... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anzha (138288) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:04PM (#3532012) Homepage Journal
    an overgrown newsgroup. Or a benevolent (now that's mind boggling) Slashdot.

    The primary problem with anything like this is going to be the fact that just like in Usenet, people - valuable, vital people - will move on due to lost interest, changes in their lives, and the fact that anything like this started over the net tends to die off pretty quickly.

    There are exceptions notably some software projects (What I can't imagine ;)), but more often than not ideas get thrown around online pretty quick and easily...and then nothing comes of them.
  • by Debillitatus (532722) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {2lellived}> on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:04PM (#3532014) Journal
    This sounds pretty good, at least at first. In some sense, this is precisely what the academic paradigm is in the first place. For example, any academic works on problems of this sort, without any expectation of financial compensation, only wanting recognition.

    Looking at it this way, this system is simply a clearinghouse for problems people find interesting. If people work to break these big problems into manageable and concrete pieces, then these little pieces may be perfect for undergraduate or even graduate students to work on. I know that such a clearinghouse would be very valuable in mathematics. I've always imagined that such a thing would exist before too long for the mathematical community, and this would be a good thing.

    The main reason that I think this would be a good thing is that for a young researcher starting out, one has to spend a lot of time understanding the big picture of a certian field, and generating good open problem on one's own. Such a system could bring the problems to the researchers more quickly. This could speed the process up by quite a bit. Such a thing sort of exists already, in the form of preprint servers [lanl.gov], and I'm sure there's more to come! What doesn't really exist now is such a "big picture" fremework in a public domain, IMHO.

    • This has been going on in mathematics for a long time. The most famous example is Hilbert's [clarku.edu] list of 23 problems from 1900. This list lead to advancements in mathematics such as Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and a formal definition of algorithm (Church-Turing thesis). Some of the problems are still open, IIRC.
      • It's true such a list exists. Hilbert's list is of course very good, and there's a new one out by Smale, and the CMI prizes [claymath.org].

        These lists, although quite influential, are not quite like a "distributed computing" idea. These are just big open questions sitting out there. They're really hard to solve. Now, one could imagine that someone posts on usch a server saying, i think we can parse this certain problem into the following 15 pieces, and then people can solve this. This is exactly what one does with their advisor when working on a PhD thesis, for example. Such a system would bring the problems closer to the forefront, so to speak.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      ShouldExist [shouldexist.org] is a Scoop community website for people who have innovative ideas to donate. Know-How Wiki [umontreal.ca] is a community website for people who have problems to solve, or who have advice to give on how to solve them. Any kind of problem, really.
  • If they can get this to work on a large scale, they may have found the first step towards Utopia. Unfortunately, you'll probably just get a segment of geeks working on this stuff.

    Now if they just make the next project "novel ways to remove people who don't help us from the gene pool"
    • Now if they just make the next project "novel ways to remove people who don't help us from the gene pool"


      Don't worry, im all over that one. You see i figured that considering the current state of the USPTO that i would apply for "a method of using deoxyribonucleic acids to create unique and distinct characteristics among individuals"

      after my patent on DNA is approved i shall charge a 1 dollar licensing fee among all humans.

      Of course should you choose to not pay my fee, or i refuse to license to you i shall be forced to remove all of your unlicensed DNA... so you see, i shall have exactly the answer to the problem you would like answered ;)
  • Now that they've reinvented the scientific method, maybe they can reinvent some much needed things like the wheel and fire.

    This proposal is just how Baconian scientific research has always existed. So what if this group, among many others, starts working on clean water and other standard-of-living improvements. There's nothing innovative about the proposal at all.
  • As I was watching The Matrix this kinda thing is what I thought they were farming. Boy was I disappointed with the whole battery thing.

    --
    "Instead of getting married again, I'm going to find a woman I don't like and just give her a
    house." -Steven Seagal
    • That scenario never occured to me before reading your post, but it is a pretty cool one... they could have tied it in well with the whole "you're only using 3% of your brain... ever wonder why?"

      Uh oh, I hope whoever's farming that other 97% doesn't figure out that I'm on to them... they might try to elimi... urrrgh!!!

    • Read the excellent tetralogy by Dan Simmons, which starts with the book Hyperion. I don't want to say too much and give a spoiler, but it's really good stuff.

      Yeah, go ahead and mod me down for "Offtopic", punk.

  • by Lord Omlette (124579) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:10PM (#3532055) Homepage
    "Their aim is to encourage an "open source" ethos for tough design and technology challenges."

    Redesign the wheel and tell the underserved community members to RTFM if they have a problem using the redesigned wheel?
  • Excellent idea. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vkg (158234) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:10PM (#3532060) Homepage
    A lot of problems in third world development and disaster relief are not cash-limited, they're brain limited: we really do not know the best ways of treating epidemics in places without any decent high tech infrastructure, for example. Innovative ideas and approaches help: I've seen structures at Burning Man which were a lot better for their purpose than yer average disaster relief tent.

    I think opening the design process up to the widest possible collaboration and really encouraging people to follow through could make a difference: kinda like the Simputer [simputer.org] project may: a diversity of minds, of approaches, may be the best way to help the poor and the starving.

    We can't wait for government to feed the people, you know? Too big, too slow. It's up to us. And it always has been - this is just one more way to help.
    • Yes but surely you need people on the ground to put the ideas into practice that people have thought of.
    • That reminds me of something I saw a few years ago. A small team was commissioned by the Canadian government to design a water pump for 3rd world nations. The pump had to be cheap, easy to use, and easily repaired. After much work one of the members went and got the old pump from his fathers farm and used that for the design with great success. Although there are many differences in the situations it is important to remember that at one time our own societies infastructure and technology were at very similar levels. Than again, perhaps our strategies of dealing with the Bubonic plauge are something Africa might be better off ignoring!
    • "A lot of problems in third world development and disaster relief are not cash-limited"

      Actually MOST are cash-limited. Dare I say all...?
    • Feeding starving people is like feeding tribbles, the end up multiplying, taking up all the space, making a general nusance of themselves and pissing off all the Klingons. er, well, the space thing anyway.

      What we need to figure out is how to get them to turn their local natural resources into sustainable profit-generating assets, so they can become a viable market for the big corps.
  • Some of the problems in handling this approach is that unlike the SETI, etc. way of doing things, where a client goes out, grabs a chunk of data to be worked on, then sends the resultant data back to the server, each of these social/governance problems *aren't* a mathmatical formula. You can't just apply the same formulae to every problem. There is no "right" way to do it.

    Computers are also good at multitasking, whereas humans [aside from life-functions] have for the most part, a single tasking thought processes. It also takes people a non-trivial amount of time to context switch [see various /. postings on "getting in the zone"]. This means that while people may not be thinking about work during their lunch hour, they will have a difficult time getting back to thinking about work when they are done [or getting into the mindset of whatever problem needs to be solved]

    Human filter. Again, unlike the SETI idea, a human needs to filter all the resultant data, as by definition, new ways of solving problems don't fit into a previously known idea. say you do get several thousand people working on this project, the resultant data will be huge, *and* every human filter will filter the information in their own way, there is no "control".

    That being said, new ideas come from all around us. Who knows what this experiment can yield.

    .
  • I like this idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by epseps (39675)
    Too often we tend to see the world in terms of technology (as in computers). Open source has alot to offer the "digital divide" but this fails to consider that in many places of the world you have to overcome the "sewage divide" and "electicity divide" before you can even have a digital one. I think an "Open Source" type solution is a good idea for providing for the more basic needs of poor countries.

    As an example of this, I was in Haiti on vacation in December (I hate relaxing vacations...I can relax at work) and it is quite amazing how much human time and energy is spent just keeping clean, getting drinkable water, cooking, in a place where the population doesn't have access to plumbing or electricity. I figured it would be about 3 to 4 extra hours of work each day...time that cannot be spent at another job, learning to read or just having time enough to consider your own existance.

    Selling fresh produce for extra cash is difficult becuase of poverty of your potential customers and lack of refrigeration limits the time that it can be sold, cooking it requires getting charcoal from a vendor (this is why Haiti is deforested), raw sewage on the streets makes whatever food that is cooked still risky (in this suburb of Cap Hatien the tallest structure in town was a two story pile of dried sewage in the middle of the street.)

    Clearly something needs to be done, and all the other plans have always had contracts, agreements and treaties tied in that equalled that only a few people would profit from a "project" but the situation of the general population would remain unchanged. I hope engineers, earth scientist and botanists get involved in this.
  • The trick is ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by doug_wyatt (532721) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:21PM (#3532115)
    ...going to be finding out who is good at doing what, and breaking up hard problems into components that can be shipped to the people that are good at working on them. It doesn't seem like technology is the real problem here. More human and project management skills.

    Given that the devil in most large systems is in the number of inter-dependencies, not the complexity of any one given component, not having everyone involved relatively close in meatspace is going to make re-constituting a total solution based on the individual component solutions quite difficult indeed.

    <mandatory-lcs-grad-rip-on-the-media-lab&gt
    But atleast this project is has more societal value than some of the other a virtual dog that you can pet.
    </mandatory-lcs-grad-rip-on-the-media-lab >

  • ... perhaps they should try to solve the problem of slashdotted websites ...
  • by bluGill (862) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:22PM (#3532123)

    Remember innovation is 99% persperation, and 1% insperation. Looks like they are focusing on the 1%, and assuming that the rest will take care of itself.

    I don't have all the answers, but I do know that these third world areas are in desperate need of people to do some work. Someone to come in and create a stable goverment (that will not starve opponents). Teachers to show them how to think. There is a total glut in the food market. (The US could easially supply all the world's nutrirtion needs if people would be willing to live food that doesn't taste good)

    AIDS is a large problem in Africa. We don't have a cure, but we know how to prevent the spread. However most goverments in Africa are doing little to prevent the spread. (In fact some are actively doing things to cause more cases - at least in groups they don't like) We could use a cure, but until there is a cure, we don't need more non-biologists thinking about AIDS (where they are unlikely to make progress), but we could use those same people in Africa teaching people how to prevent aids. Of course if you actually go to Africa you will soon discover that other problems need to be solved before the AIDS problem can be solved.

    We don't need more thinkers, we need more doers. That is much harder. I can go home tonight and think about a methane digester that can be used in a mud hit. I can't go to a village and build them after work tonight.

    • Remember innovation is 99% persperation, and 1% insperation. Looks like they are focusing on the 1%, and assuming that the rest will take care of itself.

      That assumes you don't have a way to implement something outside of the physical world. Computer modeling, for some things, can work very well in the idea forming stages of a project. That Edison quote is refuted very well by Tesla who was (reportedly) able to completely visualize an invention before ever putting two components together. Now that we have computers to do that kind of thing for us we can come up with very reasonable models

      I'll have to concede on other parts of the post though. A good idea does not translate into a good implementation (substandard parts, etc.) or even a means for creating an implentation. But, if the idea is good enough to be used, I would think that there would be a pretty good chance of someone using it.

      • Ordinarly I would agree that Tesla disproved Eddison on the insperation/persperation arguement. However this isn't just a matter of getting something to work. this is getting something that will work, and then making it work for 3-5 billion people who do not currently have the standard of living we do.

        Even with your good thinking, you design something that comes out perfect the first time, all the thinking effort will be overwhelmed by the effort required to impliemnt it on 3 billion people.

        • by Altus (1034)
          It is rare that the person best suited to design a system is the same person that is best suited to implement it.

          sure, this wont solve problems, but if it provides an edge to the volunteers in the Peace Corps then I realy dont see how it can be that bad of a thing...

    • And it's Just Plain Wrong (tm). Remember Tesla's response to Edison: If Mr. Edison thought more, he wouldn't sweat as much.
    • innovation is 99% persperation, and 1% insperation

      "If Mr. Edison had thought smarter he wouldn't sweat as much."
      ~ Nicola Tesla ~

      Sorry, couldn't resist... :-)

    • Someone to come in and create a stable goverment (that will not starve opponents).
      I don't mean to nit-pick, but I find it unlikely that someone can come in and create a stable government that is anything more than despotism. A valid government has to be made up of the people it governs. Outside influence seldom seems to be a positive force.

      (And since it's ontopic here, a recent Ted Rall cartoon [uclick.com], NYTimes, registration etc)

      • BINGO! here you have people with a bad goverment holding them back (amoung many other problems). They cannnot fix it internally without being killed, even if they could (democracy might be the best solution, but it isn't a mircle cure, it takes years for results, in which time it is easy to fall into corruption). I cannot do it because I'm an outside force.

    • Remember innovation is 99% persperation, and 1% insperation.

      Even if we assume that applied accurately, you missed that they are trying to get 100 inspirations from different people. That reduces the perspiration to 36.6%.

      (.99^100=.366 To anyone who has no idea how I got 36.6%, it's the NewMath. Don't worry about it :)

      -
    • Don't underestimate people!

      Don't assume Africa is full of people unable to help themselves given the opportunity. What is missing in many regions is education, and information. The New Scientist has some interesting material in the last 4 issues concerning these matters - with innovative use of basic technologies such as Radio / street plays / print conveying information that can be used locally to improve quality of life greatly.

      You don't need a cure to fight AIDS in most regions - you need education. FOr the past 20 years the majority of the developing world has been unaware that AIDS is sexually transmitted. Make this known, and you reduce infection rates. Simple. The questions changes from how do we cure AIDS, to how to we communicate the FACTS about AIDS.

      Those are questions currently being dealt with by charity health workers - I reckon a random selection of guys in the pub could come up with better ideas (at least, NEW ideas which would be worth testing).

      This IS a great idea. I'd play!
  • Imagine a beowulf cluster of those.....
  • Imagine a beowulf cluster of these...

  • From what I understand MENSA was created with the same idea, the brightest people solving the worlds problems. Unfortunatly as it has turned out to be more of a status symbol demonstrating how smart you are. Still if this does do what it's supposed to it could be very effective,there is no limit of brilliant ideas floating around out there but what is required is a dedicated group of people to apply effective implementations. A group of dedicated intelligent volunteers may just be able to do this (it's worked with open source).
  • If this works, which I hope it does, it will be one heck of a job sorting through all the ideas and organising them. A lot of people come up with good ideas for things like this, weeding them out and deciding which ones are feasable, and then which ones to use, will be a huge task.

    Although seriously, it's not all that amazing an idea, I think it will amount to actually listening to the ideas of all the people who think about these types of issues. Most people that have an interest in these issues have ideas about how they would fix them, this may just be giving them direction in getting those ideas to people who might use them. (I'm not knocking the concept, it's great, just seems like it should have beeen more obvious)

    In other news, a number of American corporations are filing a suit claiming that this new theory of 'amature thining' will almost surely infringe on their intellectual property.
  • Yeah, put 100 creative minds together and let them work out solutions to a problem. Out of 100, you'd have:

    3 working toward a solution

    12 working toward a solution to a completely unrelated problem

    4 pissed off that Americans don't share their Eurocentric point of view

    9 having goat sex

    12 calling each other nazis

    and the rest just lurking.
  • All your brains are belong to us...
  • United Devices [ud.com] along with Intel [intel.com] have designed a clustering program where they use PCs from finding a cure to cancer to modeling the climate..

    Only thing that sucks is that they don't have a linux distribution available.. yet
  • All of society's most complex and vexing problems, convenienty broken down into small, manageable chunks so that millions of individuals would each be able to derive a little personal gain from voluntarily solving some small aspect of the big picture and all of them could come together to build complex and beneficial systems for all mankind!

    Why, that would be GREAT!!

    I have a name for it, too: we'll call it: Capitalism!

    • As opposed to communism, in which "society's most complex and vexing problems [are] convenienty broken down into small, manageable chunks so that millions of individuals would each be able to derive a little personal gain from voluntarily solving some small aspect of the big picture and all of them could come together to build complex and beneficial systems for all mankind!"
    • what part of "society's most complex and vexing problems" is solved by the creation of the 'singing big-mouth bass'?
  • Distributed human processing is hardly new--it's the way science and engineering work. Trouble is: getting a bunch of human beings to solve ill-defined problems is just not the same as having a bunch of computers do a well-specified and verifiable task over and over again.

    Let's say someone has a brilliant idea for waste water treatment. How is ThinkCycle going to test that that idea works? It can't just run a computation or ask a bunch of random people to verify the idea. You need to build a pilot and try it out. Well, the mechanisms for evaluating what ideas work and what ideas don't already exist, and they are already distributed: publications, peer review, libraries, conferences, symposia, citation statistics, recommendations, talks, etc. The mechanisms by which you do cooperative problem solving already exist, and they have existed for hundreds of years. They are the mechanism by which we collaborate in science, technology, engineering, and the economy. And there has been very active research in supporting them with computers, through groupware, electronic communications, and many other means.

    As for the site itself, it looks to me like a fairly regular groupware site. It's nice that someone set up a groupware site to discuss these topics. I find it somehwat ironic, though, that a site which writes "Open Source Design" on its banner has so many DOC and PPT files.

  • Warning: I've not read the thing at MIT yet...just the summary in the story here, so this may be way offbase.

    seti@home works because they know exactly what needs to be done and exactly how to do it. They just need more CPU cycles to actually carry out the well-defined well-understood steps.

    That's not true for the kind of problems being discussed here. How do you split the problem of, say, clean water access, into a bunch of little chunks that just require someone to think about in their spare time? It seems to me that to do that, you have to already know how to solve the problem!

  • The Mythical Man-Month by Fred somebody-or-other explained years ago how the effectiveness of a team goes up (or perhaps even down) much less than linearly as new members are added.
  • Doubters.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tarquin Sidebottom (239733) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @03:48PM (#3532268) Journal
    There seem quite a few people concerned about it not working because problems will be too complex. Two cases that this could be so suited too. Both effective yet so simple. 1 - the clockwork radio. 2- The guy that recenbtly realised that if you put one pot inside another, fill the gap with wet sand, the evaporation of the water makes it act as a crude fridge. The idea is now sweeping across africa & co. In both cases, the execution is so simple it was the original idea that eluded everybody. This is the sort of thing that ThinkCycle could achieve.
    • put one pot inside another, fill the gap with wet sand, the evaporation of the water makes it act as a crude fridge. The idea is now sweeping across africa & co. In both cases, the execution is so simple it was the original idea that eluded everybody

      I think that was actually invented over 4 thousand years ago. Yup. They made clay pots and urns and left them unglazed. A small part of the contents would seep throu the porous pot, and evaporate, thus cooling the pot / urn.

      When they wanted to store the contents for longer, then they used glazed pots, - the glaze acts as a surface sealant, just as u see on modern pottery work.

      The technology of making self-cooling pots was well understood thousands of years ago. Sorry, nothing new under the sun, at least in clay pot technology.

      -tomato
  • IT WILL NEVER WORK (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Too many visionaries and too little "workers" will cause internal squabbling and infighting.

    You need one visionary with a veritable dictatorship over an idea, and bunch of hard workers that do as they're told. This is how Linux is successful.

    If you start assembling all the smartest people to try to agree on one thing, they will come up with so many great ideas and they will all think they are right, and it will just stymie the entire effort.

    Instead of sitting around thinking of ideas, go get off your ass and DO SOMETHING. An attempted but failed idea is much more important than a whole bunch of great ideas that never get implemented.
  • I wanted to get this comment out quickly and then elaborate on it later...

    Anyway, wasn't there a project to harness the world's brain power in terms of foreign language? What better way than to ask a French native about French sentences?

    It was something along the lines of an agent sitting on the desktop, prepared with the languages the user is proficient in... When there's an incoming question (of the appropriate language, of course), a dialog box notifies the user that someone is in need of translation. Like all distributed networks, for error checking and such, the question goes out to more than one person, to prevent faulty translations or provide a more rich meaning.

    Hey, how many slashdotters took Latin in school... =)
  • "Only, intead of donating spare cpu cycles, you donate spare 'think cycles'."

    Judging from the fact that their site crumpled within the first five minutes of slashdotting, I'm betting they'd rather have CPU cycles for at least another few hours. :)
  • Too much cleanliness may be a problem. As some think [salon.com]

    There are many philosiphers who long for a simpliler life. Of course many of the latter are not willing to actually give up the benifits of our modern life to get the benifits.

    Anyone who works on these tasks should keep in mind that not everything that can be done for worse off people is a good idea. I can't answer the philisophical questions (at least not in a way that will convince anyone). I don't have the medical answers. However I do know to keep them in mind.

  • Using some spare brain cycles to figure out how to keep the webserver from getting slashdotted?
  • ... that is only part of the problem. A bigger problem is the lack of stable governments that look after their people as opposed to oppressing them for the greed of a few. Hatred, greed, desire for power and factional fighting are the primary reasons we have impoverished nations.
  • This sounds like the infinite monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters solution to the worlds problems.
  • Nuf said. But this reminds me of a book called Earthweb [amazon.com] by Marc Stiegler. The basic premise is that something is looking to destroy everything and everybody on Earth by sending giant Deathstar-like ships chalk full of weapondry to do the job (minus the planet killing beam). Since frontal assualts are useless against this thing (5th in a series), covert ops have the job of destroying the ship from the inside.

    Anyway, while the squad makes onsite decisions how to destroy the ship, the entire population, linked via web, also contributes via point casts. Ideas are submitted via monitary involvement (if I remeber right), thus ensuring people aren't just spamming with ideas. Put up or shut up, in otherwords. Eventially some ideas gain popularity as the populations votes and a commander makes the decision on how to proceed. The ideas that made the most difference in the battle were given large cash awards. Sounded kinda like the topic at any rate. Even if "Aliens want to destroy the Earth" isn't your fare, Earthweb deals with some interesting social dynamics.

    Another interesting concept was being able to charge people for sending you email. That sure as hell would cut down on spamming if you could charge any amount you desired for people to send you a message. Even .25 cents could add up given how much some of these spam clearing houses pump out...
  • Pravda.ru 20:56 2001-07-12 [pravda.ru]
    A NEW WAY TO PRODUCE ENERGY DISCOVERED BY RUSSIAN SCIENTISTS. USING NUCLEAR FUEL, GAS, OIL AND COAL CAN BE REFUSED

    Russian scientists have made a sensational discovery. Some fundamental investigations realized by them could entail a real revolution on the field of industry and power engineering and allow to make series of new inventions.
    Traditional ways of producing energy are becoming now unworkable. Completely new materials and technologies are being created. In particular, it is possible today to build so-called airborne vehicles of non- supported moving, like UFO...
    According to the Russian Academy of Science member, Doctor of Technics Valeri Sobolev, a special electrochemical process has been discovered - "exhausting process" - which results in appearing high- temperature materials in a new condition". Therefore a new condition of a material, a new power source and a new superconducting matter have been received and magnetic charge has been discovered.
    Scientists are intending now to work out completely new current sources for domestic and industry aims, which could continuously produce energy without using any kinds of fuel. It would allow to renounce using nuclear fuel, gas, oil and coal. Environment's condition could be bettered too. On the basis of "exhausting process" new ultrastrong materials are supposed to be created, which could be used in producing cars, planes and rockets. Metals and other constructing materials could be replaced with them.
    The group of scientists has already sent a letter addressed to the Russian President, which informs about their discoveries. Now is the state's turn to give a government contractual work.

    Think BIG!
  • I was never fond of their brains, so let's start by trying to solve the world's problems by using a cluster of Breasts. Couldn't hurt to try could it?

  • by jejones (115979) on Thursday May 16, 2002 @04:57PM (#3532630) Journal
    ...because I'm heavily reminded of Marc Siegler's nifty SF novel Earthweb [the-earthweb.com]. I commend it to everyone's attention for its depiction of the functioning of "idea futures" markets. (Contrary to an earlier troller, a very capitalistic idea.)
  • Sounds great if you think about it like some kind of infamous beowulf cluster of these...
    Then you'd have CPU_Power(N)~Sigma(i, 1, N, CPU_Power(i)) which is ~ N*CPU_Power(1) if all CPUs have the same power.
    Unfortunately, it is well known that IQ != CPU_Power, in fact, estimations are:
    IQ(N) ~ Min(i, 1, N, IQ(i))/N
    which is, the intellectual quotient of a group of n individuals is about the inltelectual quotient of the dumbest member divided by the number of participants.
    Reminds me of a despair.com poster "Idiocy" ("never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups")
    Expect Monty Python's solutions to world problems
  • ... the only problem is that ThinkCycle has been implemented already in a more effective manner: it's called volunteerism. No, it dosen't have fancy buzzwords like "distributed brainpower" or "open-source", but it has already proven it's success for centuries across many continents. People have been part of "distributed efforts" working on some of the world's larger problems by volunteering internationally [volunteeri...tional.org], for the United Nations [unv.org], or in their own communities. I have to say that Thinkcycle has their hearts in the right place, but good people with expertise have already thought of a more effective, old-fashioned implementation. Want global interconnectivity for using spare brain-cycles of professionals on far-away problems? Medecins Sans Frontières [msf.org] and Engineers Without Borders [ewb-isf.org] have been consulting like this for years with amazing technologies such as the 'telephone' and through 'mail' and even on the 'internet'
  • Reminds me of decision markets. Caught this link from a presentation by Vernor Vinge:

    decisionmarkets.pdf [gmu.edu]

  • It's amazing the capability that some people have to pick only the wrong parts of certain ideas to apply. Two examples:

    1. Java. Compiled languages take long to compile but run fast. Interpreted languages need no compilation but don't run so fast. Java is the non-reasonable average solution where it takes long to both compile and run.
    2. Partial Anarchy. The good side of anarchy is that you are 1. truly free 2. pay no taxes 3. can chop whomever's head you want to. The bad side is that you've got to do everything on your own because there is no organized representation of society (tribe, city, whatever) to do them for you.

    The proposition in the article is that we waste our time trying to solve things we already pay the governments to solve, without the prizes of freedom (you'll still live under a DMCA/DRM world and won't be able to chop George Bush with an axe no matter how many children you save or how many epidemics your work avoids).

    I'm still for the good old-fashioned plain Anarchy.

    fnord

  • I looked at this thing (the mirror, anyway) and as far as I can tell, it's just a big FTP directory where people drop off MSWord and Powerpoint files. My impression is that these people have had these presentations around for years, and probably drag them out whenever a particular sort of discussion comes up.

    Scarcity of good ideas and good intentions is not the problem. What is rare is implementation. It's nice that people want to do good, but many do-gooders have a very limited capacity for managing a project to completion.

    Another thing I don't see here is an incentive to cooperate. Most contributors will assume that their own aproach to cholera or low-income housing is The Right Way. If they cooperate with other people, they risk having to work on some other approach, and losing their proper recognition as The Prophet of The Right Way.

The devil finds work for idle circuits to do.

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