The term “crowdsourcing” is not aging well. Maybe it was a bit too folksy to begin with or, more probably, its slow evolution caused it to seem passé before it ever even hit its stride.
Whatever the reason, the meaning of “the crowd” has morphed into two distinct things at this point:
- an anonymous online suggestion box, donation site, or survey; or
- a ton of individuals working on small data tasks designed to improve the performance of computer vision- and location-based applications (i.e., artificial intelligence training).
The former “crowd” gets a lot of press and is a legitimately useful tool for harnessing the power of citizen scientists and other civic-minded people. The latter massive pool of freelance labor (that can start and stop virtually on demand) is where the smart money is still being spent to drive innovation. How and why, you ask?
Well, the “why” is this: the value proposition of on-demand labor is still compelling because of the staggering cost-savings it brings major industries, including
- Driverless vehicles (taxis, buses, trucks)
- Retail without check-out clerks
- Remote monitoring (vs. on-site security)
These three labor-intensive areas become much more profitable when the formal labor force required for them declines by 90%.
The “how” is essentially that once enough human data is provided (via annotated audio, image, and video files) then the data can be programmatically analyzed for patterns. These patterns can then inform the algorithm’s code (i.e., “a shape that looks like this is X% likely to be Y”).
So while we bid a fond farewell to “the crowd” as a business-to-business term, we should remember that there are now literally hundreds of thousands of human beings training next-gen tools combining sensors and software that will define the reality of our near-term future. Call these people what you will, but never forget that they are the ones fueling a fast-paced future where labor is portable and everything is cheaper and more efficient.