Wednesday, October 06, 2010

TTI Vanguard Conference Notes - 6

Stephen Downes, National Research Council
Dimensions of a learning Network

In this talk I overview the major elements of Connectivism and learning network theory, explaining how networks are used to foster learning,and describing the properties of stable or effective networks.
Please see

Jordan Raddick,Johns Hopkins University
Citizen Science: Using the Wisdom of the Crowd to Advance Human Knowledge

With huge amounts of data, sometimes we have problems that are very hard to compute but easy for people. Sorting galaxies into sphere or spirals, for example. So the idea here is to use large numbers of people to accomplish the task.

One example is the 'Gulf Spill Bird Tracker', where we collect observations of birds impacted by the gulf spill. It lets us create maps that help us understand the effect of the spills. There's a long tradition of having citizens heklp by collecting data.

But this is a next step: the analysis of that data. So we created 'Galaxy Zoo' that asks volunteers to select the shape of the galaxy. It was the result of the initiative of a grad student named Kevin at Oxford who was asked to classify 50,000 galaxies. During a pub conversation it was suggested that he get online volunteers to help. Galaxy Zoo was later carried on BBC, which caused it to take off.

We asked what the motivation was of the volunteers. Mostly, it was a desire to contribute to scientific research (39%). 12% picked 'Astronomy'. Discovery, beauty, vastness were other choices. (80 percent men, 20 percent women, similar to other astronomy projects; a bit more educated than most, but not heavily PhD or professional).

(Questions about using specialized skill sets; incenting with money like Mechanical Turk). I think that if we tried that, we would get less use (there is related research on this, Dan Berounelli (sp?)). (We do this at JPL, the participation points, being at the height of your peers, motivates, not money.) We thought about having top contributors, we found it got too competitive - each othe top 4 accused the other 3 of cheating - it became about the points, not about the science, so we had to take the feature off. Also, we don't want to give people feedback about how they compare to others, because this is new knowledge that is being created here.

It's possible to have deeper engagement. So, for example, we've had people teach themselves spectroscopy so they can talk to each other on the Zoo Forum. We have other projects in the Zooniverse - Moon Zoo, Solar Stormwatch. We also have a supernova project - The Hunt for Supernovae - having people look for supernovas, the volunteers find objects that are then observed by telescope the same night. Also the Galaxy Zoo Mergers project.

Advantages to science:
- reporting measurements over a wide area
- quick, accurate analysis of large datasets
- finding the needle in the haystack
- opportunities for serindipity

Lintott's Three Laws of Citizen Science
1. Create only projects that require human participation (don't waste people's time)
2. Tell volunteers what you're doing with the work - volunteers are research collaborators
3. Recognize volunteers collectively, and individually where possible

The thing that this is leading to is the Zooniverse - the universe of zoos.

What is the big picture - the big dream of volunteers?
- we would like to see participation is science have as much commanality and importance as participation in sports is today
- the work that people do counts for everyone
- the dream for science is to have this toolkit of citizen science is to have this toolkit as a standard tool that scientists can use - a bit like a telescope

Donna L. Cuomo, MITRE Corporation
Handshake: A Social Intranet

(Overview of what MITRE is)

If we could have a collaborative social place where we could break problems into smaller chunks, then these tools could support that model. (Slide cinnecting MITRE, industry, military, academia)

The challenge - a range of security from 'behind the firewall' to 'no securoty', based on information sensitivity. No tool will create all our users' needs, to we have a suite of tools we use.

(Demo of the social networking platform it's based on ELGG)

We have about 3300 users already, 800 from outside the corporation - our users latched on to it because it did fill a need in having multi-organization groups.

(Longish discussion of how the system has different levels of security, isn't cleared for top security (FUOU or whatever), where Sharepoint is used.

John Perry Barlow
Twilight of the Nation State

Back in the day, I made some predictions:
- everybody would have a voice nobody could silence
- democracy would be transformed
- individuals could be empowered to take on nations
- weakness of monotheism
- friction-free economy
- distribution of wealth to the rest of the world
- decreased borders, less risk of war

These all happened, more or less, but am I happy about it? No. One of the beliefs I had was that the internet would be tough on the nation-state as an institution. In a global world, the role of the nation-state would be diminished.

But while the nation-state has taken a beating, especially the US, this hasn't been positive.

Eg. the power of one person to state something the whole world can hear is increased. But a lot of people, it turns out, have very unhelpful things to say. Eg., the fascination over whether Obama is a Muslim. People like to spread untruths. This is not helpful. We have a fractiousness in politics where people are arguing not based on facts but on emotions, and these are transmitted rapidly through the internet.

We have serious problems we are confronting - crushing deficits, worsening global problems - the internet, rather than helping us solve those problems, is impeding those solutions. There is increasing heterogeneity online of various groups, but I never counted on them not liking each other very much. We get a system for people like Osama bin Laden to organize. They were able to spend $500K to cause the US to spend trillions. And it may be true that fundamentalism may be under assault, but things under assault react in an angry brittle way. The major religions are all behaving badly at the edges. The more they are threatened, the worse they get. Or, the frictionless economy enables things like the Flash Crash, or amounts of money can slosh around in ways that are increasingly stupefying.

Global online communities do increasingly include everybody, but facebook is a long way away from being the small town I hoped it would be - it's the online suburbs. People thing they are engaging in a way that has meaning and force, but they aren't. They manage Facebopok relationships to the diminishment of relations they have IRL. The end of the nation state may have made war obsolescent - but led to the rise of groups that cannot be identified, that move across borders fluidly.

There are some benefits. The president was elected without relying on the usual fatcat money sources. But that doesn't mean it's possible to govern as president  from the edges - that may yet happen, but it is not happening now. We are in  a very awkward phase of a negotiation process where most of the existing powers of the world are losing what they have, we we don't know what the emerging powers will have.

(Difference between grassroots networks to campaign, vs grassroots networks to govern)

We need to start defining the what, rather than the how. An overdefinition of the how has led to a real paralysis. The medicare bill was 1000 pages long - people react because they don't know what's in the thing. They can't react. Money spent on New Orleans - we can't find out where a lot of the money went. Or Donald Rumsfeld talking about billions of dollars going missing.

There are many ways people are organizing themselves for positive purposes, using tools they barely understand, to do good. It was a delight to interview Craig, who really is like that. This can happen in a lot of instances.

(I've seen a transition in my lifetime from professional caring companies to an environment almost entirely driven by greed). Well the problem is that companies were too paternalistic - GM had pension plans, etc., which made it too hard to make money.

(Look at the way nation states were wired, it was basically a linear system - but today it is highly non-linear - part chaos, part disorganized, small effects can have huge differences - our inability to predict the future is related to our inability to understand non-linear systems.)

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