With the advent of AI, one of the most important things we can do to prepare for the best possible future is to become more deeply aware of what it means to be human. How we transform that knowledge into useful data—and who has control of it could have profound implications for the type of society we will be living in.

In this day and age, it is extremely profitable for companies to learn more about human (inter)actions. Without question, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple take the cake on aggregating such data. The trade secret is to create digital neural networks to process and analyze every action—ultimately leading to impressive corporate innovation. Recently, Cambridge Analytica showed the world the potential of massive cognitive profiling but also the potential dark sides. Thus, these companies are also exceptional at manipulating “the fundamental emotional needs that have driven us since our ancestors lived in caves, at a speed and scope others can’t match...Whether you want to compete with them, do business with them, or simply live in the world they dominate, you need to understand [the way these tech companies work]”.

More targeted companies like Knack and Lumosity, are attempting to use games to capitalize on our desire to “brain-train” and get assistance in HR applications such as hiring and efficient team formation. However, the companies rarely scientifically document their findings. In the massive BBC-sponsored Brain Train Britain, no effect was discovered in 60,000 participants and Lumosity has since then been fined for false marketing. Social science and behavioral economics research groups have undoubtedly made great leaps towards understanding and analyzing how we tick. However, due to methodological shortcomings such as limited and biased samples they are increasingly falling victim to the reproducibility crisis.

So now, imagine what the world would look like if we ‘democratize’ the understanding of human behavior? What if we could conduct responsible, non-proprietary human behavioral research on nearly the same scale? If everyone could tap into those neural network nodes, then everyone could develop services just as personalized as Google provides—opening access to innovation for smaller companies to be able to deliver competitive products. There is a dire need for a large-scale public effort to both give access to all the benefits of this knowledge and to spark important public discussions on its dangers. Even the act of presenting these ideas to the public and including them in the scientific process of inquiry is a critical step to democratizing the data.

For these purposes, ScienceAtHome created Skill Lab: Science Detective, a suite of mini-games exploring basic and higher cognitive skills such as 2D and 3D visuospatial reasoning, response inhibition, selective visual attention, visuospatial working memory, reaction times, and written language comprehension of English language. We compare the skill-indicators from the games with classical, validated psychological tasks evaluating the same skills. The game and several applications will be described below but first more about our initial motivations for the development.

Investigating Human Problem Solving, Creativity, and Innovation

While machine learning algorithms are becoming increasingly powerful, human intelligence is still superior in many respects. It is essential to understand the difference between human and machine intelligence, and develop hybrid-intelligence interfaces that optimally exploit the best of both worlds. By offering complex research challenges to the general public, citizen science does exactly this. Numerous citizen science projects have shown that humans can compete with state-of-the-art algorithms in terms of solving complex, natural science problems. However, much less is understood as to why a collective of citizen scientists can solve such complex problems. Many research institutions around the world have groups studying this facet of human creativity. Typically, each of these groups has one or two games that they have designed to test creativity in a particular context. However, just like in Google’s algorithms, one needs lots of diverse data to understand subtle interactions.

At ScienceAtHome, we believe that we can only unlock the subtle patterns of human creativity by studying it in many shapes and forms simultaneously. We have developed a portfolio of high-dimensional, natural science challenges (within physics, chemistry, and mathematics). At the same time, we are setting up a portfolio of more controlled individual and collective games. We believe that such a “social science supercollider” infrastructure will allow the massive and detailed investigations necessary to overcome current methodological hurdles. In e.g. the Quantum Minds and Alice Challenge projects, we have taken first steps into combining natural and social science investigations. However, it is also becoming increasingly clear that even with data from our current 300,000 volunteers, typical big data methodologies struggle to give clear insights into subtle human strategies.

One of the mind-boggling (and perhaps comforting) realizations coming from the social sciences in recent years is the fact that humans are often superior to algorithms because and not despite having limited computational, psychological, and physiological capabilities. As a simple example, human minds have limited storage capacity but this has forced us to develop sophisticated information prioritization algorithms (forgetting :)) that make us immensely efficient when forced to make fast, heuristic choices. Similarly, when balancing exploration and exploitation in complex innovation tasks, both skills and weaknesses play together to influence our choice of strategies. Out of these insights and our big-data frustrations came the concept for the Skill Lab games: by simultaneously investigating complex problem solving and knowing the cognitive profile of each player, we would be able to perform an a priori categorization of players into persona types and then look for common patterns of learning and exploration within each group.

Skill Lab: Science Detective

Skill Lab: Science Detective is designed to be a real gaming experience instead of a gamified experience for citizen science research (lead scientist: Carlos Días, Phd). It is based on the principles of stealth assessment and evidence-centered design. The mini-games are embedded in a story-driven game where the player is a detective. The player’s challenge is to solve the mystery behind strange events happening at a university campus while helping researchers at different labs.

We digitally adapted a series of 16 challenges which players can access at points inside the game. The game establishes a pact between citizen and scientist. We give players access to the newest psychologically-founded personal cognitive map allowing them to self-assess strengths and weaknesses in their cognitive skills while donating their data. In the fall of 2018 we launched a prototype of this large-scale profiling in collaboration with Danish Public Broadcasting. More than 15,000 people have already participated and because of the citizen science methodology and the publicity by a public service channel, participation is very evenly distributed across ages and by gender. This is something truly unique in the field of social science.

Bridging the Gap Between Biology and Social Phenomena

Denmark maintains a Central Personal Registry (CPR) database for government data on each citizen, which provides for up-to-date services. This has established Denmark as a haven for registry-based research, in which any social-science question (such as entrepreneurship or health issues) can potentially be investigated by correlating to the CPR-data. In the future, genome mapping done by companies such as 23andMe will allow research into how our biology might impact the emergent phenomenology of cognitive and social behavior. However, first efforts clearly demonstrate that we are far from establishing a full microscopic understanding.

So far, research based directly on cognitive indicators has either relied on self-reporting, which is small-scale and unreliable, or on the one big database that exists for cognitive profiles: military draft data. Although the latter has given rise to a number of insights it harbors an intrinsic problem: such data is predominantly available for one demographic group: young men. It has recently come to light that much medical testing has been conducted predominantly on males and therefore many documented side effects are much more relevant to men than women. Of course, this is a huge medical problem and a big social issue if we view human interactions based on insights derived in a gender-unbalanced way.

In our Danish 2018 pilot, we took steps to demonstrate the applicability of this new database for societal registry-based research. We called for researchers to pose a few brief survey questions for Skill Lab users. These responses can then be correlated with the game-generated individual cognitive profiles to investigate e.g. entrepreneurial intent, risk preferences, cognitive aging, political ideology, as well as relations between language skill and working memory.

Imagine how this work can help develop a model of how humans solve problems and reason through choices. It can lead us to a better understanding of cognitive biases, logical fallacies, societal interactions and issues, turning the data into a powerful tool for humanity to understand cultural and political dynamics. Understanding these issues can help us improve our society in the future.

Consider what we might be able to do if we could examine cognitive profiles from the whole world? Could you create a social media digital assistant that detects when you are being manipulated? For that you need much deeper insights than what is currently available. Let’s also consider other challenges: Could we help overworked teachers deliver on the promise of personalized education? Could businesses be more systematically successful if they were less dependent on the intuitions of exceptional, natural born leaders?

Just like the thrill of discovering a new continent 500 years ago, today we can get a thrill of uncovering some of the hidden landscapes of our knowledge. One of the most important dark spots is how the individual mind works and how many individuals join collectively to accomplish important achievements.

About the authors: Jacob Sherson is Founder and Executive Director at ScienceatHome and Professor at Aarhus University. Janet Rafner is Director and International Coordinator at ScienceatHome.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.