Study: We Should Crowdsource Global Warming Solutions Using Artificial Intelligence

Chris White

A super-intelligent hybrid human-computer — i.e. artificial intelligence — might be the ticket to solving “wicked” problems like global warming and war, researchers at the Human Computation Institution (HCI) and at Cornell University suggest.

If only scientists could find a way to combine the creative abilities of humans with the immense data analyzing capabilities of computers, then we could really get down to solving complex problems, HCI researchers claim.

The solution, according to HCI Director Dr. Pietro Michelucci, is to create a human computation crowd-sourcing social network — like Facebook but geared exclusively toward solving big-world problems. Michelucci argued in a pressstatement earlier this week that the idea is akin to that of reCAPTCHA, a human computation spam-blocking security system combining the strengths of computers and humans.

“Human computation is the secret sauce that makes crowdsourcing work,” Michelucci said in a video released in the statement. “It’s an offshoot of artificial intelligence, which is about making machines smarter. Human computation puts a special twist on this by cheating. Instead of making smarter machines, we let machines do the things they do best like counting and keeping track of things, and give the really hard jobs to people.”

One such human computation project,, launched by Cornell University in 2012, uses crowd-sourcing to help environmentalists and conservationists find ways to make their yards more environmentally friendly. It is similar in many ways to Wikipedia, in that the site lets users build on to other people’s Earth-friendly ideas.

“By sharing and observing practices in a map-based social network, people can begin to relate their individual efforts to the global conservation potential of living and working landscapes,” Janis Dickinson, Professor and Director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said in a press statement issued earlier this week by HCI.

But using a crowd-sourcing system to tackle complex problems like climate change, Michelucci warns, could backfire. What happens if a crowd-sourcing solution to global warming is found and implemented, but results in a slew of unintended side effects, such as killing off polar bears or, worse, wrecking a country’s economy?

In order to deal with those side effects scientists will have to create information systems that allow “billions of people to reason together effectively,” he said, adding that global warming models will have to be constructed “that allow prospective solutions to be evaluated in theory before they’re implemented in practice.”

Of course, much of what Michelucci is advocating — super intelligent computer systems — has come under attack, ironically enough, by some of the leading figures in human computation technology  — Tesla CEO Elon Musk and technology startup financial backer Sam Altman from YCombinato. In fact, Both Musk and Altman signed a $1 billion pledge in December to curb big technological companies  from gobbling up too much power from “super-intelligence systems.”

Still, HCI and Michellucci feel the risks are worth the reward — that is, they feel the side effects are worth it if the payoff means solving so-called man-made global warming.

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