Technology enables our work, connects our world and changes our lives. So far, however, it has failed to definitively answer life’s big questions, like:
- Is there a God?
- Are we alone in the universe?
- What’s the best superpower to have?
Where technology has foundered, though, perhaps the crowd – all of us – can succeed. After all, according to Wikipedia, the “wisdom of the crowd” is a well-documented principle:
The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.
Wisdom Of The Crowd
To find the answers to the questions that have eluded humankind from before the beginning of civilization, I consulted three popular sources of crowdsourced knowledge:
Yahoo! Answers: Anyone with a Yahoo ID can proffer a question or an answer. Regrettably, the site appears populated mostly by lonely teens – with a related level of expertise – and the design seems optimized for the late 1990s.
Quora: Quora bills itself as “your best source of knowledge.” Unfortunately, it insists upon your social media identity as the price of entry. The site does have a powerful search function, although many questions seem posed for no reason other than to show off how clever the asker is.
StackExchange: StackExchange is comprised of various mini-sites, called “communities,” mostly technical in nature. There’s an Ubuntu community, an Android community and many others. No registration is required. Questions can even be altered by users. The result is sort of like Wikipedia, albeit mostly for ephemeral data for very technically specific questions.
I searched all three for the answers to the big-picture questions listed above. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
Does God Exist? (Does Game of Thrones?)
On StackExchange, asking “does God exist” maddeningly brings up questions related to George RR Martin and something called the “eleventh metal.” On Yahoo Answers, the very first response is a paid link to “Does God Exist at Amazon” – sadly, without a definitive answer. Quora fared much better. Perhaps too well, as a barrage of answers and related questions were quickly presented on a page of seemingly endless text.
The best answer? I scrolled through scores of responses on Quora and found this posted quote from Einstein – which may be no answer at all:
“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”
Are We alone In The Universe? (Signs Point To Yes)
Next, I searched for the answer to “are we alone in the universe?” On this question, StackExchange failed wonderfully – leading me down a rabbit hole of questions concerning Star Trek, Star Wars and waffle irons. Quora’s crowd mostly just answered this question with another question. Define “alone” or define “we,” for example.
Surprisingly, Yahoo Answers offered what I considered the best response – if not exactly an answer:
There are, in theory, 750,000,000,000,000,000 solar systems in the visible universe. Do you really think that only 1 solar system out of 750 sextillion solar systems has life?
The Best Superpower? (A Fast Answer)
Fine. Forget life’s big questions. The singular conundrum that has plagued me since I was a child is: “What is the best superpower.” Here, at least, Yahoo Answers, powered in large part by youngsters, and Quora, its users a mash-up of Silicon Valley’s biggest dreamers and daringest wannabes, were actually able to shed some light.
Super speed was never the superpower I dreamt about, but a Quora member, Gary Stiffelman, made a strong case:
My answer is super-speed, like The Flash. It displaces flight, invisibility, invulnerability, teleportation and a lot of other powers.
It can even displace super strength, as hitting something millions of times in a few seconds has the same effect as a single super blow. Fun stuff.
No Guarantee Of Accuracy
Sadly, for life’s big questions, consulting the crowd has left me no wiser than before. Perhaps, even in an age of global connectivity, with information at our fingertips and technology all around us, there may be answers to questions we are still not yet ready to know – or can only discover on our own.
As Wikipedia notes, “crowds tend to work best when there is a correct answer to the question being posed, such as a question about geography or mathematics.” Maybe God isn’t in the details…
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.