Hard to believe but the Artificially Intelligent blog is now almost three years old. Quite a lot of virtual ink under the bridge since then. I thought it appropriate therefore to use the anniversary both to reflect on a piece of the past and to start something new. This will be the first in a series of posts over the next few weeks attempting to think through what I term the “Monkeys Typing Hamlet” problem but which others refer to as “Crowd Sourcing.”
Quite some time ago I wrote about the facile reporting in a Newsweek article that described the imminent demise of crowd sourcing. I haven’t changed my mind about the article. It is still a perfect example of contemporary journalistic practice and therefore an indictment of everything that is wrong with the training and practice of many mainstream journalists today. But the article struck a chord with me for an entirely different set of reasons. Consider this portion:
There’s no shortage of theories on why Wikipedia has stalled. One holds that the site is virtually complete. Another suggests that aggressive editors and a tangle of anti-vandalism rules have scared off casual users. But such explanations overlook a far deeper and enduring truth about human nature: most people simply don’t want to work for free. They like the idea of the Web as a place where no one goes unheard and the contributions of millions of amateurs can change the world. But when they come home from a hard day at work and turn on their computer, it turns out many of them would rather watch funny videos of kittens or shop for cheap airfares than contribute to the greater good. Even the Internet is no match for sloth.
That’s why Wikipedia’s new recruiting push will not rely merely on highfalutin promises about pooled greatness and “the sum of all human knowledge.”
You can sense the authors’ delight here in being able to get a few digs in at those who have the temerity to believe in “pooled greatness” and who actually care about big ticket items like the state of human knowledge. You can feel the satisfaction in declaring these kinds of dreams no match for the unstoppable power of LOLCATS. There’s nothing quite as distinctive as the smell of superiority. Then it hit me.
I could have written this piece.