E-commerce and Daily Thinking – A Thinkibility Nibble

In our blog post Daily Thinking – Discovering Patterns we showed some alarming daily thinking habits, like assuming that there is a linear, unambiguously relation between a cause and an effect. For example, it is assumed that increasing e-commerce will reduce traffic. People will less … Continue reading

Crowd Research

There are some fascinating developments which call for some “What If Thinking”.

Four technological developments

Nowadays more or less everyone is connected to someone via the Internet. It is assumed that any person can connect to another person via a friend of a friend, all it takes is six or fewer steps for anyone to be introduced to someone – it is a small world.

Stanley Milgram  explored the relationship in the Small World Experiment in 1967 and although the experiment have several weakness it is still a popular research topic. By the introduction of the Internet only Six Degrees of Separation are between you and  everyone on your mobile phone. Recent studies even suggest that the world has shrinked as a result of Social Networking such as Facebook and there may only be Three Degrees of Separation. We are and feel more connected to each other.


Soon all conceivable devices will also be connected. This means that a thousand physical quantities built-in (like length, or torque, or tensile strength, or clicks per impression), as well as nearly 10,000 units of measure (like inches, or meters per second or katals or micropascals per square root hertz) will be connected to the Internet.Those devices could be linked to a person  (a smart watch for instance), to a product or a process or linked to a GPS-position. If a standard exchange protocol, as proposed by the Wolfgang Connected Devices Project,  will be developed, a seamless integration of as many kinds of devices may be possible.

A third development is that we assume that the production costs of devices will be decreased by the use of nanotechnology and the trend of individuation of products will continue.  As a result of a reduction of production costs, several devices such equipments such as heart rate monitors, fitness equipment and  books,  are becoming more affordable for individual use. These items  were previously only available for organisations and groups, such as a hospital, gym or library,

A fourth development that will function as a kind of multiplier that will dramatically increase the mentioned developments. Manufacturers of devices will no longer offer a device plus its processor plus an infrastructure linked to that device. They will make use of the facilities the buyer already have. That is, a computer or a mobile phone, with all their data processing qualities and connections built-in. We will see that producers will adopt strategies that are derived from the biological concept of  symbiosis.

Crowd Research

Crowd research offers a great opportunity to explore possibilities and opportunities. Already we can see examples how those four developments or trends will interact and reinforce each other, especially what we call, by lack of better, Crowd Research

  •  SETI, a distributed computingproject in which volunteers donate idle computer power to analyze radio signals for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.
  • In the Open-Source Bee Project a global set of sensors could give scientists new insight into the possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  A cheap sensor could turn backyard beekeepers into an army of citizen-scientists
  • Zooniverse is a citizen science web portal owned and operated by the Citizen Science Alliance. The organization grew from the original Galaxy Zoo project and now hosts dozens of projects which allow volunteers to participate in scientific research. Zooniverse projects require the active participation of human volunteers to complete research tasks. Projects have been drawn from disciplines including astronomy, ecology, cell biology, humanities, and climate science. The Zooniverse community consisted of more than 1 million registered volunteers. The data collected from the various projects has led to the publication of more than 50 scientific papers.
  • eBird is an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.  eBird has been described as an ambitious example of enlisting amateurs to gather data on biodiversity for use in science. eBird is an example of treating citizens as scientists, allowing the public to access and use their own data and the collective data generated by others.
  • Tomnod took images gathered by their satellites and offered them to the public for viewing and identification in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. 2.3 million people used the site to look for signs of wreckage, oil spills and other objects of interest. During the 2010 Haiti earthquake, OpenStreetMap and Crisis Commons volunteers used available satellite imagery to map the roads, buildings and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince in just two days, building “the most complete digital map of Haiti’s roads”

Emerging Crowd Research

We may speculate that the availability of cheap devices linked to mobile phones will increase crowd research exponentially in nearly every area of human activity.

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousalblood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEGECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing. Quantified self is self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology. Quantified self advancement have allowed individuals to quantify bio-metrics that they never knew existed, as well as make data collection cheaper and more convenient. One can track insulin and Coriolis levels, sequence DNA, and see what microbial cells inhabit his or her body.

If the collected data are shared, imaging what hidden cause-effect relations will emerge foe example, between life style, geographical area, and food consumption. Architects could use the data to design better buildings, routes and cities. The data can be used to design office layouts that stimulates physical exercise. The data could be used to monitor healthy persons, which could lead to changes in medical science which is per definition based on ill people. It can be used to map the spreading of viruses. People could compare their work pace with others in the branch and in other branches. Scientific disciplines as psychology and sociology would be freed from unreliable research methods like interviews and questionnaires.

 What if dreams are massively recorded on a world scale? Do poor people dream about other things than rich people? Are Japanese dreams different from dreams in Africa? Shadow: Community of Dreamers, crowd financed with $82,500, wakes people up with an alarm, prompts them to anonymously describe their dreams, and beams those reports into a massive online set, where they can be searched and analyzed. Dreams are coded for age, sex, location, and time.  

What if there are cheap devices that measures the quality of tap water or swim water? What if people near Fukushima are no longer dependent on radiation levels from the government or TESCO because there is a cheap device that in combination with a mobile phone share information about radio activity? If many, many people have their own weather station and are plugged in a network, would it not enhance farming at a huge scale? What if anybody with a mobile phone could recognize a sought or missing person?

What if cars have an on-line device that measures the air quality, but also will display that level of air pollution at their rooftops ? Would it lead to “air pollution traffic control”? Wouldn’t it be confronting and provoke to action by citizens?

air quality

All cars have an indicator on their roof that shows the level of pollution: low, medium, too high

Ultimately, we may see an enormous democratising of information that till now has been  monopolised by institutions  and governments and, as history shows,  often a lot of data and information has been denied or hidden from civilians.

24/7 Patterns of Activity – Thinkibility Boost


Our daily work, social and private life is regulated by patterns. Patterns that dictate what you do, where your are and who you encounter. It seems that these are shifting from an industrial pattern wherein people are locked in a 5 or 6 days working routine from 8 am to 6 pm, mostly nailed down by law or by labor agreements. Yet even in a post-industrial era the industrial pattern is omnipresent.

Industrial patterns of activities

 However libraries are mostly accessible in the evening, most services as GP’s, dentists, therapeutics, plumbers, banks and hairdressers are not. School and industry hours are not synchronized. Museums are open at hours when nobody can visit.

Needless to say that the complete infrastructure (roads, bus lines, train schedules, offices) is based on the industrial working pattern. It means that public means are spend less efficient than when the load on the infrastructure is more evenly distributed.

Once I asked some employed women with school-going kids what their ultimate utopian business hours would be. They were not able to come up with the idea of working hours for parents with school-going kids between 10.00 am. and 3.00 pm. Impossible they said when the idea was put forward. Yet an employment agency did at the same moment profitable business by offering women precisely that kind of working hours. Alternative business hours were for them simply not conceivable.

Apparently the industrial pattern of working hours, social and private life are firmly rooted in the mind despite the fact that many women – and their partners – suffer from it while basically it is in many occupations not necessary to use these patterns.

24/7 patterns are increasingly changing

Only gradually evening and night shops have appeared. In many countries the ban on Sunday opening hours of shops has been partially lifted. Some “innovations” emerged, such as the business lunch and the working breakfast. Most car repairs have extended opening hours to give their clients the opportunity to bring their cars before their offices are open.

However, under pressure of the development of the Internet shops become increasingly, at least virtually, 24 hours a day open during seven days a week. Teams in different time zones speed up development projects. Doctors in LA let people working in India analyze x-ray photos in the night after the photo is taken (see also The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman).

Working at home for at least one day a week is encouraged by some companies.

Most hotels rent rooms from 1.00 pm till the next morning 11 am. Nowadays at some airports you can rent rooms for two hours to take a nap between flights. But what if hotels would offer not only a sleeping place from 1.00 pm. to 11 am the next morning, but from 7 pm to 7 am the next morning and from 8 am till 5 pm that afternoon?

Universities has begun giving lectures during evening hours, something that was not even thinkable a couple of decades ago.

The first 24/7 Fitness Club started already some 15 years ago but are still not wide-spread. It is interesting to speculate who might be the visitors of such a fitness club during the dark hours. The short movie 24/7 Fitness Club sketches a picture.

Future patterns – from static to dynamic?

Most criminals are lockup 24/7, but some criminals have regular weekend leave or are only locked up after working hours. But what if criminals could be punished by being locking up 1 day a week or for 1 hour per day during thirty years?

Dancing schools and ball rooms are mostly open in the evening. One of our subscribers got the idea to combine a lunchroom with dancing lessons or as a “ lunch dansant”. I am sure it would be a viable enterprise especially if it is located near some boring offices.

What if offices were open 24/7 a week? One partner could work from 8 am till 15.30 and the other partner could work 9.30 pm. till 5 am the next morning. What if it is possible to sleep in the office?

 What if hospitals were organized as industrial 24/7 production lines?

 In the past financial statements were made once a year, but nowadays most companies make them four times a year or even every month. As it is known that some control systems could become unstable when the rate of the feedback mechanism is increased, it is conceivable that companies in future will present their financial results once every ten years?

 Is it imaginable that because of the health effects of a siesta – a short nap in the afternoon, mostly after the midday meal – a siesta becomes obligatory in Western countries?

 In most countries a child is obliged to go to school for 12 to 18 years, a patterns that originated in the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays there are some weak appeals to “Lifelong Learning” or Adult Education. Would in future obligatory education for adults  be introduced for citizens over 40 years?

World Thinkers’ Ideas – Creative Machines

Robots are machines that are programmed to perform tasks. Can a robot be creative? And how can you use robots as inspiration for new insights.

Driven by a desire to build a scientist smarter than himself, Jürgen Schmidhuber decided to become an artificial intelligence expert.  He believes that our dominated place as creativity experts may end around 2040 when Omega, or Singularity, will mean the end of our dominated position.

What is this idea based on?

Predicting the future is tricky, and although science fiction can provide great inspiration, few things can be predicted confidently. But that there will be computers faster than the human brain may be one of those predictions. Jürgen Schmidhuber may sound too optimistic when he says that computers will also be able to solve problems faster than humans can. However, at the Swiss AI Lab IDSIA research into artificial neural networks and reinforcement learning means that the day when machines are faster than us is creeping closer.

Can you read French, Arabic or Chinese handwriting?

Machines can and the fascinating thing is that it is not  a program. Instead, the machine has learnt from extracting regularities and making generalisations from data.

The step to being creative may look enormous. However, the project Formal Theory of Fun and Creativity may prove that it is possible. A theory has been developed that explains in a formal way science, art, music, and humour. Building curious and creative agents that never stop generating new ideas may be a work in progress, but when computer have the power of human brains, the explosion in ideas is a reality. He says, curiosity is the desire to create or discover more non-random, non-arbitrary, regular data that is novel and surprising.

Does the idea sound scary? Jürgen Schmidhuber does not think in terms humans versus robots. He believes that we are stepping stones leading towards more complexity and we should be happy with our role.

Seeing an idea in the light of another idea can provide new insights. Lee Smolin says in the book What is your Dangerous Idea: “Seeing Einstein in the light of Darwin suggests that natural selection could act not only on living things but on the properties defining various species of elementary particles.”

Seeing the solution to problem with Internet Trolls in the light of a Machine Troll may provide some ideas that can be used as a solution to the problem with Internet trolls.Writing the code that the machine will use is a way to gain insights into human minds. What do you need to include in a code to make sure that the machine acts like a human Internet troll?

Photo:Robots In Bright Colours by Victor Habbick