A Popperian Platform for Programming and Teaching the Global Brain

Speaker: Karl Lieberherr, College of Computer and Information Science, PRL, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts.


In a recent article in the Communications of the ACM (May 2012) on Programming the Global Brain, Bernstein et al. make the point that developers of global brain systems need to be societal engineers coordinating societies of many diverse workers. Bederson et al. (2011) address the "remote person call" issue of global brain systems which is about exploitation and ethics issues. Over the last five years we have been experimenting with the Scientific Community Game (SCG) that tries to foster innovation in technological domains through good societal engineering but also learning so that workers benefit from the interaction with requesters and other workers (reducing exploitation, workers become both students and teachers). In the terminology of Bernstein et al., SCG is a constraint-based programming platform parameterized by playgrounds that define the detailed constraints for a domain.

In the SCG we build knowledge bases of claims that are defended by members of the community against attackers. We use a critical rationalism (= Popperian) approach where each claim is disputable. The refutation protocol, in its simplest form, is: If you produce an x in X and I produce a y in Y, property p(x,y) holds. The successful defenders of claims have good technological know-how (for the given playground and relative to the quality of the other workers). It is this technological know-how which is of interest to the requesters and it is transfered to them as software or heuristic descriptions or by hiring the successful workers.

I will introduce the rules of SCG, its playgrounds that are inhabited by workers or avatars ( produced by workers). Interesting specializations of SCG are the Quantifier Game from logic but also the Renaissance Game from the 16th century. I will report on our successes and failures to create games that produce innovations and learning (I have written a playground designer's guide that helps designers to be good societal engineers). Our most successful instantiation of the Scientific Community Game was through the learning tool piazza.com in an Algorithms class with 35 undergraduates. I have also used SCG successfully to gamify software development for optimization tasks.

Supported by Novartis. Joint work with Ahmed Abdelmeged. SCG-Publications.

Short Speaker Bio

Karl Lieberherr started his career at the Kantonsschule St. Gallen, got his PhD at ETH Zurich, taught at Princeton, was a visiting scientist at MIT and is a professor at the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University. One of his current research interests are platforms for crowd sourcing where quality control is done by refutation.