Using crowdsourcing to solve complex problems

February 16, 2014, Northwestern University

If two minds are better than one, what could thousands of minds accomplish? The possibilities are endless—if researchers can learn to effectively harness and utilize all that knowledge.

Northwestern University professor Haoqi Zhang designs new forms of crowd-supported, mixed-initiative systems that tightly integrate crowd work, community process and intelligent user interfaces to solve complex problems that no machine nor person could solve alone. Zhang's systems can ease challenges in designing a custom trip or planning an academic conference, for example.

Zhang will discuss his research in a presentation titled "Crowds, Communities, and Mixed-Initiative Systems" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago. His presentation is part of the symposium "People and Computing: On Human-Computer Collaborations for Tackling Hard Problems" to be held on Sunday, Feb. 16, in Regency A of the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Spanning the fields of computation and design, Zhang, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Segal Design Institute, studies and designs social computing systems that promote desired behaviors and outcomes. His programs, called "crowdware," enable users to contribute while providing actionable feedback to indirectly coordinate their output.

Zhang created Mobi, a tool that uses crowdsourcing—the collection of information from numerous, often anonymous people via the Internet—to plan custom trip itineraries.

Reading natural language, Mobi takes a request ("I want to take a two-day trip to Phoenix") and special requirements ("I want to visit a museum, a park and a café, but I don't want to walk too much"), then crowdsources the requests to users, who are incentivized to create and refine an itinerary in a collaborative-workspace application. A crucial component is the "Brainstream," a sidebar that suggests to-do items so users know what information or decisions are most needed.

A second program, Cobi, enables an academic community to plan a conference by "community-sourcing" to committee members and presenters, who weigh in about what sessions they should be part of as well as scheduling constraints.

Program committee members group papers sharing a common theme, providing affinity information between papers; authors mark other papers they find relevant to their own, and those they would personally like to attend; and conference chairs use a Web-based, visual scheduling interface that combines community input and constraint-solving intelligence to refine the schedule. In addition to creating sessions and developing a schedule, Cobi provides session recommendations to attendees during the conference.

Explore further: Optimizing donor kidney distribution in the United States

Related Stories

Optimizing donor kidney distribution in the United States

February 14, 2014

Northwestern University's Sanjay Mehrotra has developed an innovative model that could help ease kidney distribution inequities among regions in the U.S. and ultimately help save hundreds of lives. His mathematical model, ...

Robotic fish aids understanding of how animals move

February 15, 2014

The weakly electric black ghost knifefish of the Amazon basin has inspired Northwestern University's Malcolm MacIver and an interdisciplinary team of researchers to develop agile fish robots that could lead to a vast improvement ...

Science is used to reveal masterpiece's true colors

February 13, 2014

Scientists are using powerful analytical and imaging tools to study artworks from all ages, delving deep below the surface to reveal the process and materials used by some of the world's greatest artists.

Researchers develop energy-dense sugar battery

January 21, 2014

A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar and has an unmatched energy density, a development that could replace conventional batteries with ones that are cheaper, refillable, and biodegradable.

University institutes are shaping future of research

February 15, 2014

In an age of specialization, building networks of outstanding scientists, engineers and clinicians is helping the development of creative solutions to complex societal needs. But how do you successfully surmount the barriers ...

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.