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Climate Researchers Tap 'Wisdom Of The Crowds'

Web 2.0 project could provide key insights on global warming and other issues.
Researchers at MIT's Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) want to harness the power of social groups and computers to address some of the world's most pressing problems.

Thomas Malone, director of the CCI and professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said that applications like Wikipedia, Linux, and YouTube hint at the potential of collective intelligence. Malone said that similar developments could improve doctors' diagnoses and scientists' ability to address climate change.

Mark Klein, CCI principal research associate, is leading a Climate Collaboratorium project, which is designed to develop an online collaboration tool for harnessing data and discussing solutions related to pollution, transportation, economics, and other issues surrounding the problem.

Users record their contributions and connect them to existing material, creating "argument maps" to weed out repetitive and useless material. The material also is linked to computer-based climate models for testing people's suggestions.

"If ever a problem required the best intelligence from our whole species and all of our computer power, many people would say this is it," Malone told MIT News. "Certainly people are working on the problem in various ways, but so far the results leave a lot to be desired."

Klein developed a similar tool for engineers and said he hopes that one day applications exploiting "wisdom of the crowds" can be put to work to address poverty, terrorism, and other complex problems.

MIT researchers also have proposed a project to consolidate patient data, clinical practice information, and medical research into a worldwide application that could help doctors figure out a patient's exact type of cancer and the best treatment choices for each patient, depending on tumor characteristics, MIT reported Monday.