Internet technology and organizational innovation that unleashes the collective power of humanity are changing labor and research patterns around the globe.

Human computation combines the power of information processing systems and biological brains to solve problems. Put like that, it may not sound like much. But the potential of interconnected humans and machines to process data in, for example, the field of scientific discovery is gaining increasing recognition.

“In recent years and due to the use of humans in computing, books have been digitized through captchas, the web can be translated into different languages and further back in time, we were given a place like Wikipedia, in which human knowledge is stored and used as a place of reference,” explains Borja González del Regueral, Vice Dean of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology.

“But human computation added to gamification [the application of game-playing principles to productive task] can also be used to solve the most challenging problems that human race faces, such as curing diseases, refining the accuracy of diagnosis in healthcare or understanding how the basis of life, such as proteins, work. Human computing is currently used to accurately predict earthquakes or even floods, and is actually saving lives,” González del Regueral continues. An example is the harnessing of more than a million people’s brains by the portal Zooniverse, assisting in dozens of science projects – ranging from spotting exoplanets to counting blood cells.

 “Human computing is currently used to accurately predict earthquakes or even floods, and is actually saving lives” – Borja González del Regueral, Vice Dean of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology

The implications of this growing sector for companies and organizations of all kinds are enormous. Human computation eliminates physical constraints. You don’t need to be in a lab to take part in scientific research or go to a cubicle to help a company analyze data. In the same manner, it also eliminates borders and flattens the world. The IE University’s Bachelor in Information Systems Management is designed to position students at the forefront of the digital world with the potential to understand and exploit the intersection of technology, business and humanity.

Crowdsourcing platforms, based on the human computation principal, see tasks sent out to a digital labor pool, which could be based anywhere. Workers face the new challenge of having to compete with the rest of the capable internet users on the planet. Logically, as the cost of living varies in different countries, so too will the price these independent workers are willing to charge for tasks. Market forces may cause these jobs to become concentrated in developing countries, therefore outsourcing jobs from advanced societies.

Yet while the trend to find the cheapest labor may worry some, NGOs such as Samasource see the idea that work can now transcend borders as a revolutionary tool for alleviating poverty. Talent has never been limited by borders, but opportunity certainly has, and this is a way to change that, they say.

Leila Janah founded Samasource

Leila Janah founded Samasource when she was in her mid-twenties to alleviate poverty. Today she can count Google, eBay and Walmart as some of the organization’s clients. Photo: Samasource

“Going from earning $2 a day to $8 a day, may not seem like a lot in the developed world, but in many countries that could mean the difference between whether or not you can eat healthy food or have a roof over your head,” says Louisa Brown, communications officer at Samasource, a non-profit organization that connects technology leaders such as Microsoft and Google to workers, mostly in developing countries, to complete micro-tasks.  Redefining what it is to be a non-profit, the organization has become self-sufficient and sometimes the companies they work with don’t even realize it is a charity.

“We are highly committed to our mission that we’re giving work in a highly influential, impactful way,” says Brown. “And we are always focused on producing quality information for our clients.”

Samasource works with vulnerable groups, mostly in developing countries. It identifies the people who would most benefit from the work and beyond providing employment, it provides training, support, computers, work experience and the opportunity for long-term careers. Three years after starting work at Samasource, workers on average increase their earnings by nearly four times, the organization reports. Today, it has a workforce of more than 1,000 people, and estimates that since its beginning in 2008, it has made a positive impact on the lives of around 35,000 people.