Where human intelligence outperforms AI

With every new trend comes a counter-trend. And so despite the current excitement over the wonders of artificial intelligence, one company is betting that human intelligence can still deliver solutions for businesses that do not hope to match.

Article One Partners (AOP) is a crowdsourced network of over 42,000 researchers in 170 countries – 42% of whom have graduated degrees in a variety of science, technology, and engineering specialties. The firm got its start uncovering patent-busting prior art for defendants in high-stakes patent infringement suits, where it quickly earned a reputation for invalidating before art in the hidden corners of the globe that Google search could never reach – a unpublished Korean-language PhD dissertation, a rural Norwegian library, even in a New York City pawn shop. Their work was often found that a novel "invention" was not so novel after all.

But in recent years, AOP's sleuths have begun to make a name for themselves as an all-purpose "human search engine" that can help businesses solve challenges that algorithm-based search engines can not, especially in the development and marketing of innovative new products.

Earlier this year, for example, a small manufacturer based in Europe needed to develop a pipe system that could move highly-volatile and abrasive hydrocarbons like solvents and metal cleaning agents safely over long distances. Hydrocarbons tend to destroy everything they touch – Park your car in a puddle of gasoline and your tires will swell and eventually rot. So the company needed to invent a new type of material for the pipe works that would have been resistant to organic chemical reactions from the liquid passing through it in varying pressures – and yet still be deformable (ie, able to swell up to its width but then reform to its original shape).

A well-formulated search engine string could certainly point to materials, and research already published. But to find a truly novel yet cost-effective solution, the company felt it needed human insight and expertise in multiple scientific and engineering disciplines. So it retained the British-based innovation consultancy The Moon on a Stick, which in turn called upon the AOP for help.

According to The Moon on a Stick's managing partner Sean Warren, the results were impressive. "AOP's research crowd came back with 142 possible solutions or compositions that would enable the pipes to withstand the volatile hydrocarbon material and perform as needed," Warren noted. "I was quite surprised by the depth and relevance of the technical approaches they uncovered, some of which the client had never even imagined."

These included a novel approach using nanotechnology, as well as some little-known new research underway at U.S., European, and Asian universities.

AOP also works with large enterprises, even those with vast internal resources like the telecom giant AT & T and the $ 30 billion technology giant Philips, the latter of which initially retained AOP to assist with its patent function. But as Brian Hinman, the firm's retiring chief intellectual property officer, explained, the relationship soon expanded. "We are now using AOP to identify some products, as well as new trends in particular technology domains."

One new tech area where Philips was considered for expanding its R & D effort, Visible Light Communications (VLC), which uses a visual spectrum between 400 and 800 THz to send data such as ads to in-store consumers (or potentially, instant replay video to spectators in a football stadium). Philips deployed AOP experts to start digging for everything they could find – products, companies making products, and new cutting-edge research in VLC – that would help the company make a business decision on, and how, to invest in VLC or not

This is the difference between algorithms and human judgments becomes crucial. A search engine query can quickly tell you a lot about VLC, its history, a few of the major players, and some published research in the field. But to make a business decision about whether to invest in millions of dollars in developing and marketing VLC products, Philips needed the experi8ence, insight, and business judgment of human experts who could assess the size and scope of the market opportunity as well as the best "white space" innovation areas for the firm.

Bet-the-company decisions like that algorithm, said Philips's Hinman "AOP produced actionable intelligence that enabled us to make informed decisions about innovation focus, invention generation, and potential acquisitions."

To be sure, the robust AI systems are now being designed and implemented. They can also manage systems, conduct operations, and take action. But fundamentally – at least so far – These are the differences of the degree, not kind.

In any event, for challenges that quite literally requires boots on the ground, even the most advanced AI system will not be able to compete with a network of human sleuths. AOP's CEO Peter Vanderheyden offered one example:

"We were engaged by a global licensing organization for one of the world's biggest consumer products," he recalled. "They asked us to find out where unlicensed devices were sold around the world. Now, Google could point to all kinds of articles in China or in India. It could also give you estimates of the losses due to counterfeit product sales. But that only tells this licensing organization what they already know, right?

"So we asked our researchers to go out and actually knock on doors," he continued. "We had them in their local stores, in whatever country they were located, and take pictures of six pictures of every box containing a device that featured this advertising consumer technology – box of each side of a photo. The goal was to see if the package showed the proper license label. "

To no one's surprise, AOP sleuths produced photos "And mind you, this …

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