Strangest ways to use the power of crowds

Crowdsourcing is a powerful tool, using an existing resource (an otherwise stupid hive mind) to do stuff we never expected said resource to be able to do ! Let’s talk about a few ways this is possible, starting with a personal — and pretty strange — story from my Time Below.

Audience

Aussie Farmers make great Recyclers.

Back in 2012, I left School for a Gap Year in Australia, to ruminate a bit about my future.

While I was there, I stayed in a quaint little town (which happened to be the most fire prone town, in the most fire prone area, in the middle of a very dry summer… And I only found out about this a few days before I left, after having spent the “danger” period there, — Ah, Universe and Thou attempts to kill me shall never cease to amaze me!– ).

While there, to support myself, I worked for a local Farmer. This is where you might expect to be told a story of herding cows or fencing.

Well… Suffice it to say that this aussie Farmer had signed a contract with a few supermarkets and food producers, and received, for a price,all the misproduced –or otherwise deemed inedible by humans — or outdated food  With this, he used a big shredding machine that sorted the plastic from the metal, while feeding the food-waste (anything from Cola to baked beans from up to 9 years ago, or even alcohol in rare cases) to his Cows…

In his words:

” Cows will eat anything, but don’t feed them fermented grape juice… You don’t want too see a tipsy cow ! “.

This is a great example of crowdsourcing, as the farmers, an abundant crowd in australia, used an even more abundant crowd (the cows) to solve a current problem — the disposal of food waste products (that can’t just be… you know, eaten.) — I imagine the thought process might have been a bit like this:

“Hum…we’ve got these cows that have to eat, and will pretty much eat anything… and the supermarkets are having problems disposing of all the bad food… so much that they’ll PAY us to take it from them… I wonder if we can’t just solve everything in one go” and thus, a small industry was born !

Even though it might seem risky (these were milk cows…) my farmer friend reassured me that they had health checks on all cows involved, gave them time to adapt to their new diet, and had content measurements frequently on the milk.

But other than my — very strange — personal experience, here’s 3 other ways to use the power of crowds:

Using crowds:

  1. Crowdsource protein folding. Proteins are tricky beasts, and the ways they fold are even trickier to predict based on structure alone. Which is why Science got the brilliant — albeit slightly strange — idea to create FoldIt, a game where the goal is to fold virtual proteins, using a variety of tools, into most stable shape possible. (There are LOTS of these Sciency-crowdsourcing games coming out, my favorite being the RNA-folding game eteRNA).
  2. crowd-scale entertainment.  Ever heard of Flash Mobs ? groups of people — organizing through social media or emails — that gather and “perform” (though it can be anything from a pillow fight to a rehearsed dance).
  1. The “dubious” sort of statistical crowdsourcing.  So, I recently saw a review for a book talking about how Target, with a massive database and some statistics-kung-fu on the shopping habits of their clients, were able to predict the pregnancy of women (well, at least determine that said client IS pregnant, and a delivery window). <—Seriously, Give this a read, statistics are AMAZING…and pretty scary… but I doubt Target is gonna go all evil on us and put abortion-powder in anything drinkable said shoppers buy as an effort to control population… So we’ll be alright !

So, Crowdsourcing is pretty intense, and I can’t even begin to imagine what the future will bring !

 

What do you think ? Is using statistics from crowds to assess, say, personality or pregnancy, okay ?

Should we ban any use of private information without explicit consent ? Could society even enforce such an act ?

IF you’re interested in knowing more about which way this blog will ultimately lean (see below) why don’t you follow me ;).


I am currently going through the Fizzle introduction courses, and the one I’m in — Finding your Subject — has led me to evaluate a dozen or so possible subjects with a Weighted Decision Matrix (fun little tool, I’ll probably use that again in the future !).

I’ve narrowed it down to one of these (or a combination…):

  • Biotechnology.
  • Crowdfunding.
  • Wearable Technology (+- App Development).
  • Self-education/hackademics.

The final part of the course is to write 5 blog posts ( + a hypothetical product outline) on each of the ideas.

This is number 1/5 of the crowdfunding/sourcing subject.

PS: The Fizzle Show is an excellent podcast, go listen !

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Biotech: Tools of the trade

tools-biotech.com

So, you’ve got yourself a team of dedicated Biology grads, or you’ve taught yourself all the basics of Molecular/Synthetic Biology. It’s time to make a start-up  !

But wait, aren’t you forgetting something?

  • Knowledge workers Check.
  • Tons and tons of ideas Check.
  • a workspace/large-sized dorm room Check.
  • equipment che…wait, what ?

Yes, there’s a large difference between a Software startup and a Biotech startup… the equipment needed to test your humongous collection of semi-viable ideas !

For a software startup, the equipment needed are easy :

  1. Code monkey(s).
  2. Computer(s).

While a Biotech company, on the cheap, will at least need the following to test their ideas:

  1. PCR equipment 
    Many Biotech projects will be manipulating DNA — operons for metabolic pathways, genes for specific molecules… — and to do that you need to be able to manipulate the specific piece of Genome you’ve decided to test, modify, or study. To do that, a PCR is essential, and there are several to choose from. Going from “industrial/lab” strength to DIY/biohacker grade.
  2. Reagents, Culture media, etc…
    (this is highly dependable upon the idea/project, but since you’re doing Biotech, it’s very probable you at least have a few cell cultures to take care of).
  3. Basic Lab Equipment (test tubes, Erlenmeyers, etc…).
  4. Microscope(s).
    (This depends on whether you need to observe something in-vivo or not, or if your project requires it).

There are many probably other basics I’m missing, like safety & health equipment, etc…

So, how would a wannabe-bioentrepreneur get started ? How can you validate the ideas if you’re low on funds ?

There are several options, depending on how much you/your team can muster together, if you have jobs on the side, etc… :

  1. “Collaborate” with a local university.
    This works particularly well if you can get your hands on an interested professor or researcher, who might plea with the administration on your behalf to grant you access to their equipment.
  2. Work in a hackerspace.
    Hackerspaces adapted to this kind of work are slowly creeping up all around the world, they tend to be very well versed in open source and open hardware (OpenPCR, etc…) and can be a good place to validate the ideas in themselves (when validated, you’ll still need market research and probably funding at some point, if you plan on launching a product).
  3. Buy time for specific parts of your experiment on University or industrial equipment, using ScienceExchange, a marketplace for experiments !

So, that will be all for today,

Have fun !


I’m currently going through the Fizzle introduction courses, and the one I’m in — Finding your Subject — has led me to evaluate a dozen or so possible subjects with a Weighted Decision Matrix (fun little tool, I’ll probably use that again in the future !).

I’ve narrowed it down to one of these (or a combination…):

  • Biotechnology.
  • Crowdfunding.
  • Wearable Technology (+- App Development).

The final part of the course is to write 5 blog posts ( + a hypothetical product outline) on each of the ideas.

This is number 5/5 of the Biotechnology subject.

PS: The Fizzle Show is an excellent podcast, go listen !

Posted in Science | Leave a comment