A handful of universities are studying how crowdsourcing can be used.

Maybe you’ve got a hunch Kim Jong Il’s regime in North Korea has seen its final days, or that the Ebola virus will re-emerge somewhere in the world in the next year.

Your educated guess may be just as good as an expert’s opinion. Statistics have long shown that large crowds of average people frequently make better predictions about unknown events, when their disparate guesses are averaged out, than any individual scholar—a phenomenon known as the wisdom of crowds.

Now the nation’s intelligence community, with the help of university researchers and regular folks around the country, is studying ways to harness and improve the wisdom of crowds. The research could one day arm policy makers with information gathered by some of the same methods that power Wikipedia and social media.

In a project that is part competition and part research study, George Mason professors Charles Twardy and Kathryn Laskey are assembling a team on the internet of more than 500 forecasters who make educated guesses about a series of world events, on everything from disease outbreaks to agricultural trends to political patterns.

They are competing with four other teams led by professors at several universities. Each differs in its approach, but all are studying how crowdsourcing can be used.

At stake is grant money provided by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which heads up the nation’s intelligence community.


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