Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Collaborative communication

I get something from O'Reilly every few days about computing.  A big field and one that is expanding rapidly is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the related Machine Learning.  Ever since the IBM computer called Watson beat humans in the Jeopardy-type game, there has been media attention on the subject of computers thinking.

The other day, I saw an O'Reilly article predicting an explosion in AI from "cross pollination".  I thought "That's it!" That's what humans do.  Call it cross pollination, call it brainstorming, call it group discussion, call it communication and stimulation.  You have seen it in groups of 5th graders, college students, young adults drinking together in a bar. Somebody makes a comment, maybe a joke.  Somebody comments on an article in the news.  In no time, the comment and the article are combined into a new thought.  The new thought triggers further statements and some pipe dreams.  Keep this up and it is definitely possible that somebody will  walk away with an inspiration, a determination, a question for Google, a new proposal for the boss.

I think some people say that the process is enhanced with wine or other drinks.  Some people say that stuff interferes with clear thinking and rapid repartee.  You usually need a well-balanced group.  They can't be too locked onto standing out or putting each other down but at least several of them need to be willing to shoot from the hip, toss out ideas and reactions without too much care or footnoting or hesitation.  I think it works better with a group of five to eight.  A full classroom of 25 or 30 is too many for much interchange per person.

This process in a live group of people sitting together in the same room works well and has for millennia.  However, with modern computers and the world wide web, it can be done with people who are sitting at their keyboards or talking to their smartphones.  With Google Translate or other tools, including live translators in the group as in the United Nations, it can proceed among people who don't speak the same language.  We even have instances of "crowdsourcing" where a problem or a challenge is thrown open to all comers.  Anyone interested can join the effort, regardless of background or experience or rank.  There have been some impressive examples of successful solutions through crowdsourcing.


We have internet "trolls" here and there, malevolent people bent on destroying or interfering with a group cohesion and communication.  You can look up the subject in Google or other search engines and in Amazon books.  It is true that some online communicators can be intimidated or worse by the right nasty comment or threat or ridicule.  However, I think ways and means of dealing with deliberate intent to wound or destroy or silence a contributor are being developed all the time.  Artificial intelligence can help there, too.

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