Thursday, March 3, 2011

Assignment #2 Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirkey
How cognitive surplus will change the world

Clay Shirkey presents a view of the opportunities collective intelligence can make from a worldview. Collective Intelligence is referred to as “ Cognitive Surplus’ in his video presentation on TEDTalks. Shirkey presents a belief in the benefits of “Cognitive Surplus , or the ability to harness the collective intelligence of millions of people in their ‘free’ time to problem solve worldwide challenges. The ability to use cognitive surplus for this type of participatory world problem solving has become possible through Web 2.0 and the software that has allowed co-creation, collaboration and immediate publication. Publishing first and editing second allows other individuals work collectively together to co-create and build solutions using a multitude of diverse experiences and cultures. He describes it in the video as a creative act. It is now possible to try something and put it out in the public space for commenting, editing, and co-creation.
Two excellent examples of this ability to use collective intelligence or cognitive surplus in the talk were the well known Wikipedia and Ushahidi . Shirky employs both of these as examples of collectively building a more cooperative, collaborative world. Shirkey calls this the ‘shared on-line work we do with our spare brain cycles.’
Ushahidi is promoted as crowd sourced software. Crowd-sourced software is a software than enables collective intelligence.
Ushahidi was developed through collective intelligence as a result of a lawyer’s blogs in the 2007 Kenyan election. Shirkey describes a situation similar to the recent events in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt where the government was imposing media blackouts and internet blackouts in an attempt to control the populace and ethnic violence. The Kenyan lawyer was unable to mange the information that was posted on her blog that was providing up to the minute information from across Kenya. She made an appeal on her blog for assistance.
Within 72 hours a diverse group of individuals created Ushahidi, a software that takes tacit information from the field, aggregates the data and then puts it on an interactive map that geographically makes it usable. Ushahidi tracked the violence and people were able to stay away from the areas and locate safe zones. This software was used in the Haitian disaster and most recently in the Australian floods for crisis mapping and where there was access to clean water, hospitals.
The ability to use ‘cognitive surplus’ to harness the collective intelligence of a diverse group of people led to a global use of this software within 3 years. The initial call for help was through a blog. Blogs are a Web 2.0 phenomenon that allows individual expression and creation through digital technology. Blogs are becoming a mainstream method of managing and disseminating individual and collective knowledge.
Shirkey used Ushahidi and Wikipedia to describe the possibilities of digital technology and human generosity and collective intelligence that creates the ability of the world to volunteer and collaborate on global products. This is a participatory process that moves humanity from the ‘consumption to creation to sharing” as Shirkey states in the video. That using digital technologies to collectively create allows the freedom to experiment with anything and the possibility to design for communal value. Shirkey echoes Howard Rheingold discussions in how participatory cultures can create world wide civic values around democracy and create positive global social change and democracy. In addition Shirky and Rheingold discuss the importance of intrinsic motivations to co-create, share and the creation of new norms of behavior through the benefits of collective intelligence and the use of digital technologies.

Clay Shirkey is also the author of
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008) and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010). His blog can be accessed at

Shirkey, Clay. June 2010, TED Talks
How cognitive surplus will change the world
accessed February 11, 2011

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Massachusetts: Perseus Books

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