Citizen Science hits again with EyeWire

Hear of this crowdsourcing success story at EyeWire:



Crowd-sourced science isn’t just fun and games anymore; it has produced a scientific discovery new and important enough to be published in the journal Nature.

The social gaming venture EyeWire lured citizen scientists to follow retinal neurons across multiple two-dimensional photos with the chance to level up and outperform competitors. And with their help, EyeWire has solved a longstanding mystery about how mammals perceive motion.

The use of gamification in conjunction with collaboration techniques, and the multiplication factor of reaching a motivated worldwide crowd,  is giving great results! 

Computers are not very good at identifying objects in an image (to see where one object ends and another one begins), something humans do at a glance.  On this particular game, EyeWire, there are more than 120.000 players from 100 countries coloring the presented neuron cells.  Players are doing the job of identifying cell by cell the path from the eye to the brain.

But that’s not the only thing the crowd is contributing with, because the players’ results is also used to train ‘learning algorithms’ in identifying objects in an image.  Learning algorithms are a very special kind of programs that can adapt through feedback. So when we give to the algorithm a positive (or negative) example of output, the program changes some internal parameters in order to adapt and give the desired outcome. With this game, the images with the colored cells that humans are doing in the game are being used as positive examples.  Next generation of image recognition programs will be more powerful also thanks to crowdsourcing.

MOOCs: the new learning style

Last week I presented MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at the Professional Women International association in Brussels, Belgium.

I had the pleasure of talking to the participants afterwards.  They told me they were so pleased to learn they had such an easy way of taking good quality courses that they were going to check that same night for their preferred subjects 🙂

Happy to have contributed to spread the word about the availability of the MOOCs, putting all their encapsulated knowledge encapsulated at any user’s fingertips!

On the last slide, I just dropped words  with the main implications of this trend;  I encourage you to put a comment if any of the subjects I mention resonates with you:

Is your Robot feeling lonely? Connect it to RoboEarth

It (or he/she?) doesn’t need to, there is now a platform to connect to others.  I wouldn’t call it the Facebook for Robots, it’s more like a giant Academia 🙂  but RoboEarth enable robots to share their experiences, their learnings.  It is a Cloud environment that allows them also to use external storage and computation capabilities, that means freeing them of physically  carrying the extra kilos of storage space or processor needed to execute their tasks.
See the official definition:

What is RoboEarth?

At its core, RoboEarth is a World Wide Web for robots: a giant network and database repository where robots can share information and learn from each other about their behavior and their environment. Bringing a new meaning to the phrase “experience is the best teacher”, the goal of RoboEarth is to allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction.

RoboEarth offers a Cloud Robotics infrastructure, which includes everything needed to close the loop from robot to the cloud and back to the robot. RoboEarth’s World-Wide-Web style database stores knowledge generated by humans – and robots – in a machine-readable format. Data stored in the RoboEarth knowledge base include software components, maps for navigation (e.g., object locations, world models), task knowledge (e.g., action recipes, manipulation strategies), and object recognition models (e.g., images, object models).

I think this platform will make an exponential leap on robots capabilities.  It is sometimes hard for humans to learn by example, but it is not so for robots.

And isn’t this like crowdsourcing between robots?


Small talk on Big Data

Last week I presented this topic to professional women at PWI here in Brussels. It’s called ‘small talk’ because it is not a technical presentation but one for a broader audience, to create awareness on this Big Data trend.   The main concept I wanted them to take away is the change in the business arena and in our society due to Big Data. If you are interested on this subject, just drop a line and let me know!

Prices of discs and storage devices have dropped a lot, so now basically any digital data is being stored.  Cost is so low, that it is worth to save it ‘just in case, and we’ll see in the future what we can do with this data’.  Technology has made also  huge advances with massive parallel processing, and we can manage to jungle through thousands of servers to analyse a bunch of diverse data and extract information from it in a usable time-frame.

This allows business strategists to make smarter decisions based on facts, better than how it was done before, based on experience or intuition.  So the message for all decision-makers is: go and check your data, you’ll find there valuable information to decide any business matter.  Also, be aware that your competition is going into it too, it can out-smart you!

At the society level, there are many ethical issues to deal with, like privacy or equality and fairness.  What to you think, is it fair to have a subsidy that is ‘personalised’, that may give more to someone than to others because of a particular factor, or allow access to a health treatment to someone and not to another based on his life expectancy for example?  What about basing the decision on his ‘ROI’  like the capability of paying back for the given  treatment?  Or is it more fair to have instead equality on subsidies, same amount for everyone? Even for the ones that could pay it by themselves? Either we discuss them before-hand, or we will be at the mercy of any politician or entrepreneur taking a step deeper in an unethical direction.

And as a last twist, I would like to point out that the basic value of knowledge is challenged.  We are already experiencing a change of values, knowledge is less and less valued as an asset anymore, but value remains in knowing how to get to the knowledge,where to find it and what to extract from data.


Crowdfunding at the rescue of Iron Sky

Watch out of the dark side of the moon, the Nazis are hiding there and want to invade the Earth!

This weekend I had the opportunity to see the projection of Iron Sky, a dark science fiction comedy from the creators of Star Wreck. The film is a Finnish-German-Australian co-production, with a budget of about 7.5 million euros, from which 1 of those millions has been crowdfunded.


Director Timo Vuorensola presented his film “Iron Sky” in premiere at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF).  His production, after the first round of financing, faced a shortage of capital. So they turned to their fans for cash, collecting over a million euros. That sum was then used to convince the “traditional” investors to double that amount, completing the 3 millon euros needed  to finish the film, and proving that crowd-funding is a very effective way to rise capital, even on difficult times for the economy.

Not only they reached the crowd for money, but also to collaborate with scripts, sounds, extras and creating all the marketing buzz around the film.  It is a good success story for the crowdsourcing model.

And by the way, I liked the movie : – ) )

Crowdsourcing is a flourishing market

CrowdFlower Reports Revenue of 300% Year Over Year and More Than 300 Million Enterprise Level Crowdsourced Microtasks Completed, Earning #1 Rank in Industry

CrowdFlower is a microtasking crowdsourcing enterprise.  The company solves information-based problems like product categorization, SEO content creation, web verifications, etc… by splitting the task into small pieces (micro-tasks), and giving them to their workers ( their on-demand contributors world-wide).  They take care of quality issues, and aggregate the results to answer their client’s request.    They have completed 300 million tasks for their customer companies  including eBay, Microsoft, and Twitter.   The Daily Crowdsource has recently published the CrowdCensus report, rating them #1 among industry leaders in micro-tasking.

– In 2011, millions of tasks were performed for virtual goods in Facebook games, with CrowdFlower contributors performing real work (such as sentiment analysis and categorization) for virtual goods or other rewards.

– CrowdFlower has a workforce of more than 2 million individual contributors producing approximately 4 man-years of work daily. In other words, it would take one person four years of work to complete what CrowdFlower’s virtual workforce does in a single day.

[…]  A variety of factors contribute to their success. “Their platform sits on a robust system that does not ignore security, quality, or scalability,” said the Daily Crowdsource report. “CrowdFlower balances the combination of cost and quality through the use of Gold Standard Data, redundancy, and peer review.” [said Woody Hobbs, the CEO from Crowdflower]

CrowdFlower is not an isolated case, the microtasking industry has done great for the last years, and is in great expansion world-wide.


Popularity ranking for five main crowdsourcing categories

Eric Blattberg, in his article The five crowdsourcing categories ranked: Popularity in social media gives us an analysis of how these 5 crowdsourcing categories ranked last year: cloud labor, crowd creativity, crowdfunding, distributed knowledge and open innovation.  Here are the main results:


What do the world’s social media users think about crowdsourcing? partnered with KL Communications to find out.

Together we tried to get a sense of how the world is feeling about the different forms of crowdsourcing using something called sentiment analysis. You’ve probably seen stories in the news recently that try to gauge the mood of certain groups or entire social networks like Twitter using sentiment analysis.

[…]  Using a tool called Netbase, which indexes and analyzes millions of conversations across the web, and KLC analyzed data for the top 15 sites generating the most buzz for each of the five main crowdsourcing categories in’s Directory […] This report examines a year of data — timeframe: November 1, 2010 to October 31, 2011 — garnered from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, news sites and consumer reviews.




Although the set of sites analyzed in the distributed knowledge category generated the most buzz, the posts that reference them are consistently the most pessimistic: over 27% of opinionated comments about distributed knowledge are negative in nature. Conversely, comments referencing open innovation and crowdfunding sites carry the highest positive sentiment of the bunch — 91.4% and 91.1% respectively — while posts about crowd creativity and cloud labor platforms fall somewhere in the middle.



As any half-decent media interpreter knows, “absolute buzz” is only one part of the equation. What’s trending, also referred to as “normalized buzz,” is equally significant. During the November 2010 to October 2011 timeframe, references to crowd creativity and cloud labor skyrocketed. Distributed knowledge, the most popular category in terms of absolute buzz, saw very slight gains over the course of the year. Crowdfunding references stayed relatively steady, while discussion of open innovation platforms plummeted throughout 2011.


Microtasks market grew almost 4 times in 2011

Check this article from David Bratvoldt, Enterprise Crowdsourcing blasts off as social media growth industry.

His research  forsees a growth of the crowdsourcing microtask sector of around 355%  this year.  I am interested in your opinion: Are you hearing about crowdsourcing  in the enterprises around you? Do you think it’s good or bad for our world, with the economic crisis in which we are immersed?

As buzzwords go, “crowdsourcing” may not be as big as ”social-media” or “mobile apps” but new research show it is one of the most rapidly-expanding trends in our field. Crowdsourcing represents an epic shift in the world of labor, automation, and information science, one with large economic and ethical implications.

[…] To answer these questions accurately, we took the last three months to perform a thorough analysis of enterprise-grade microtasking vendors and produced a market report.  We chose the ‘microtasking’ sector to start with because it’s one of the two sectors that enterprises can benefit from the most. Here’s what we found: There are currently six enterprise-grade microtasking providers: Clickworker, CrowdFlowerCrowdSource, Microtask, Microworkers, &
(aka CloudCrowd).
[…] The market demand for crowd-sourced work quintupled in 2010 & almost quadrupled in 2011:

Despite being around for six years, the microtasking field was in the testing phase for the first three years.  Several platforms were revamped, relaunched, or finally “released” in 2009.  Client adoption was also slow until 2009 when the first surge in market demand occurred.  Last year, the number of completed microtasks increased 496% over 2009.  The number of tasks completed in 2011 is estimated to increase 355%