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Avi Gadish

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How do we best balance collaboration and individual efforts to solve our grandest challenges?

Collaboration has played a vital role in the research of new ideas and discoveries. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama unveiled upcoming plans to allocate funding and resources to what he called the Brain Activity Map project. The project, which is projected to last a decade, seeks to study the inner workings of the human brain and to develop a complete map of its activity. The project is aims to “solve” the brain in a similar fashion that the Human Genome Project (HGP) did the human genome. The HGP was a huge success both scientifically and economically and involved worldwide collaboration in multiple fields of science.

There is no doubt that collaboration between individuals, especially when spanning multiple disciplines, yields positive results. Certainly, the most effective way to solve some of humankind’s greatest problems (say, diabetes, AIDS, poverty, clean water, etc.), would require the world’s best and brightest to drop everything else and team up! This is total collaboration. It is my belief that, were it possible, the way to solve some of the world's biggest problems would be to pool the world’s resources together in a collaborative, positive, and effective manner.

Of course, there are drawbacks to total collaboration. Many would argue (especially those who may be “drafted” into what may seem like “conscripted collaboration”) that time is better spent researching something one is passionate about, interested in, and invested in! In addition, many other discoveries and advancements may be delayed, or worse, unrealized if all of Earth’s intellectual resources are taken up by a single project.

I open the forum to the TED Community: Does total collaboration hold the future of scientific discovery, and if so, can we really risk putting all of our proverbial eggs in one basket?

Topics: collaberation
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  • Feb 23 2013: The way to achieve collaboration so that people don't get in each other's way, so strangers can synergize, so information produced becomes fuel for refinements, is to take a cue from nature and establish a technological but organic "cyber-hive". In the insect world of hives no one designs the hive, yet through the smaller interactions of "cooperants" on cells in the lattice or "honey comb" the hive grows in size and sophistication. Traditionally what humans have done is deploy hierarchical methods in which an overlord or overlord body exists which is in charge of the progress of the entire organization and information travels slowly up the hierarchy and used at the top to make decisions then sent down the chain somewhat synchronously to all other performers. This is not suited to these times because everyone has access to information and intelligence and need no special permission to use it in their ideas. So, what happens is clashes of hierarchies with secretiveness and exclusion rather than adaptive "cells" of hooking up with other cells that can synergize where openness about what they are doing is THE WAY to allow the cream to rise.

    The Internet has not been used to facilitate this kind of collaborative modality yet. Though millions of people work on the technologies which together make for the possibility of achieving a secondary plane of human discourse other than the natural terrestery, no one works on cyberspace itself yet. I have pioneered this and have worked with a small circle I now consider a master class of cyberspace theoreticians who establish what is possible if and when we break free of the hegemony of alpha-numerics (in the sense that in computer operating systems the alphabet and numbers are the umbrella under which all is managed and sorted which creates an esoteric limiter). Cyberspace needs an interface of its own where we can observe new politics and new engines of progress that lead to a newer modernity.
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      Feb 25 2013: Wow, far out!

      I completely agree, the sense of collaboration that I invision as a succsessful means to solve our greatest challanges would have to be one of the honeycomb structure you speak of. We must be cautious of certain people who want to be "in charge" (may it be due to having money, title, seniority, etc.) who will strive to get their way. Ideally, it would have to be a community effort!

      The internet is most likely the interface to get us there. Nowadays, crowdsourcing is gaining popularity; perhaps, the future of crowdsourcing will converge with scientific discovery and we will have to wait and see what the product will be.
      • Feb 25 2013: The Internet is still primitive and needs radical new art to drive it to much higher standards. Part of the problem with doing that now is that many people see the Internet as a "right"--a medium of free speech, and want to impose artificial neutrality. It's not a free speech medium because it's not a broadcast medium. It is something else--analogous to a big filing cabinet where you can float a file but only those who are looking for it are likely to see it. I don't mind paying more to get a radically improved system where people take economics, sociology and ecology explicitly serious. Thus I see net neutrality as misguided and short-sighted--it's not all about big companies profiteering, it's about stimulus breaking--offering stuff that changes your world along the lines of those three criteria (economically, socially and ecologically). If laws keep a cap on things there will be no incentive to offer dramatically improved modalities.

        What's keeping the net primitive also is a hegemony of "alpha-numerics" i.e. "text"--using the alphabet and numbers as the "filing" system. Priority content should have a cyberspace interface which associates information by "natural criteria"--not the alphabet, not the hierarchy of numbers. When that replaces today's Internet there will be far less "dumb searches" where we search but get back hundreds of pages of irrelevancies or stuff where people try to beat the listing game. What we want to do is achieve a culture where we don't accept casual defeat of our progress. Every effort must trail-blaze some new facilitation of success. As long as we remain accepting of dead ends, we will be a dead end society. I have written a philosophy on this and hope to publish. I prefer to publish a nonlinear "prompt-and-answer" bank with modalities for sustaining application of cyber theory. But that's abstract to investors unfortunately. Writing it in linear text is frustrating. I call the philosophy facilitarianism. You heard it here first folks.

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