Watch videos with subtitles in your language, upload your videos, create your own subtitles! Click here to learn more on "how to Dotsub"

Annotated captions of Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world in English

Last Modified By Time Content
tedtalks 00:01
00:03

The story starts in Kenya

tedtalks 00:03
00:05

in December of 2007,

tedtalks 00:05
00:07

when there was a disputed presidential election,

tedtalks 00:07
00:10

and in the immediate aftermath of that election,

tedtalks 00:10
00:12

there was an outbreak of ethnic violence.

tedtalks 00:12
00:15

And there was a lawyer in Nairobi, Ory Okolloh --

tedtalks 00:15
00:17

who some of you may know from her TEDTalk --

tedtalks 00:17
00:19

who began blogging about it on her site,

tedtalks 00:19
00:21

Kenyan Pundit.

tedtalks 00:21
00:24

And shortly after the election and the outbreak of violence,

tedtalks 00:24
00:26

the government suddenly imposed

tedtalks 00:26
00:28

a significant media blackout.

tedtalks 00:28
00:30

And so weblogs went from being

tedtalks 00:30
00:32

commentary as part of the media landscape

tedtalks 00:32
00:35

to being a critical part of the media landscape

tedtalks 00:35
00:38

in trying to understand where the violence was.

tedtalks 00:38
00:40

And Okolloh solicited

tedtalks 00:40
00:42

from her commenters

tedtalks 00:42
00:44

more information about what was going on.

tedtalks 00:44
00:46

The comments began pouring in,

tedtalks 00:46
00:48

and Okolloh would collate them. She would post them.

tedtalks 00:48
00:50

And she quickly said, "It's too much.

tedtalks 00:50
00:52

I could do this all day every day

tedtalks 00:52
00:54

and I can't keep up.

tedtalks 00:54
00:56

There is more information

tedtalks 00:56
00:58

about what's going on in Kenya right now

tedtalks 00:58
01:00

than any one person can manage.

tedtalks 01:00
01:02

If only there was a way to automate this."

tedtalks 01:02
01:04

And two programmers who read her blog

tedtalks 01:04
01:07

held their hands up and said, "We could do that,"

tedtalks 01:07
01:10

and in 72 hours, they launched Ushahidi.

tedtalks 01:10
01:12

Ushahidi -- the name means "witness"

tedtalks 01:12
01:14

or "testimony" in Swahili --

tedtalks 01:14
01:17

is a very simple way of taking reports from the field,

tedtalks 01:17
01:20

whether it's from the web or, critically,

tedtalks 01:20
01:22

via mobile phones and SMS,

tedtalks 01:22
01:25

aggregating it and putting it on a map.

tedtalks 01:25
01:27

That's all it is, but that's all that's needed

tedtalks 01:27
01:30

because what it does is it takes the tacit information

tedtalks 01:30
01:32

available to the whole population --

tedtalks 01:32
01:34

everybody knows where the violence is,

tedtalks 01:34
01:37

but no one person knows what everyone knows --

tedtalks 01:37
01:39

and it takes that tacit information

tedtalks 01:39
01:41

and it aggregates it,

tedtalks 01:41
01:43

and it maps it and it makes it public.

tedtalks 01:43
01:45

And that, that maneuver

tedtalks 01:45
01:47

called "crisis mapping,"

tedtalks 01:47
01:50

was kicked off in Kenya

tedtalks 01:50
01:52

in January of 2008.

tedtalks 01:52
01:55

And enough people looked at it and found it valuable enough

tedtalks 01:55
01:57

that the programmers who created Ushahidi

tedtalks 01:57
01:59

decided they were going to make it open source

tedtalks 01:59
02:01

and turn it into a platform.

tedtalks 02:01
02:03

It's since been deployed in Mexico

tedtalks 02:03
02:05

to track electoral fraud.

tedtalks 02:05
02:08

It's been deployed in Washington D.C. to track snow cleanup.

tedtalks 02:08
02:10

And it's been used most famously in Haiti

tedtalks 02:10
02:13

in the aftermath of the earthquake.

tedtalks 02:13
02:15

And when you look at the map

tedtalks 02:15
02:17

now posted on the Ushahidi front page,

tedtalks 02:17
02:19

you can see that the number of deployments in Ushahidi

tedtalks 02:19
02:22

has gone worldwide, all right?

tedtalks 02:22
02:24

This went from a single idea

tedtalks 02:24
02:26

and a single implementation

tedtalks 02:26
02:29

in East Africa in the beginning of 2008

tedtalks 02:29
02:31

to a global deployment

tedtalks 02:31
02:34

in less than three years.

tedtalks 02:34
02:37

Now what Okolloh did

tedtalks 02:37
02:39

would not have been possible

tedtalks 02:39
02:42

without digital technology.

tedtalks 02:42
02:45

What Okolloh did would not have been possible

tedtalks 02:45
02:47

without human generosity.

tedtalks 02:47
02:49

And the interesting moment now,

tedtalks 02:49
02:51

the number of environments

tedtalks 02:51
02:53

where the social design challenge

tedtalks 02:53
02:56

relies on both of those things being true.

tedtalks 02:56
02:59

That is the resource that I'm talking about.

tedtalks 02:59
03:01

I call it cognitive surplus.

tedtalks 03:01
03:03

And it represents the ability

tedtalks 03:03
03:05

of the world's population

tedtalks 03:05
03:08

to volunteer and to contribute and collaborate

tedtalks 03:08
03:11

on large, sometimes global, projects.

tedtalks 03:11
03:13

Cognitive surplus is made up of two things.

tedtalks 03:13
03:16

The first, obviously, is the world's free time and talents.

tedtalks 03:16
03:18

The world has over

tedtalks 03:18
03:21

a trillion hours a year

tedtalks 03:21
03:23

of free time

tedtalks 03:23
03:25

to commit to shared projects.

tedtalks 03:25
03:27

Now, that free time existed in the 20th century,

tedtalks 03:27
03:30

but we didn't get Ushahidi in the 20th century.

tedtalks 03:30
03:32

That's the second half of cognitive surplus.

tedtalks 03:32
03:34

The media landscape in the 20th century

tedtalks 03:34
03:37

was very good at helping people consume,

tedtalks 03:37
03:39

and we got, as a result,

tedtalks 03:39
03:41

very good at consuming.

tedtalks 03:41
03:43

But now that we've been given media tools --

tedtalks 03:43
03:46

the Internet, mobile phones -- that let us do more than consume,

tedtalks 03:46
03:49

what we're seeing is that people weren't couch potatoes

tedtalks 03:49
03:51

because we liked to be.

tedtalks 03:51
03:53

We were couch potatoes because that was

tedtalks 03:53
03:55

the only opportunity given to us.

tedtalks 03:55
03:57

We still like to consume, of course.

tedtalks 03:57
03:59

But it turns out we also like to create,

tedtalks 03:59
04:02

and we like to share.

tedtalks 04:02
04:04

And it's those two things together --

tedtalks 04:04
04:06

ancient human motivation

tedtalks 04:06
04:08

and the modern tools to allow that motivation

tedtalks 04:08
04:11

to be joined up in large-scale efforts --

tedtalks 04:11
04:14

that are the new design resource.

tedtalks 04:14
04:16

And using cognitive surplus,

tedtalks 04:16
04:19

we're starting to see truly incredible experiments

tedtalks 04:19
04:21

in scientific, literary,

tedtalks 04:21
04:24

artistic, political efforts.

tedtalks 04:24
04:26

Designing.

tedtalks 04:26
04:29

We're also getting, of course, a lot of LOLcats.

tedtalks 04:29
04:31

LOLcats are cute pictures of cats

tedtalks 04:31
04:34

made cuter with the addition of cute captions.

tedtalks 04:34
04:36

And they are also

tedtalks 04:36
04:39

part of the abundant media landscape we're getting now.

tedtalks 04:39
04:41

This is one of the participatory --

tedtalks 04:41
04:43

one of the participatory models

tedtalks 04:43
04:46

we see coming out of that, along with Ushahidi.

tedtalks 04:46
04:48

Now I want to stipulate, as the lawyers say,

tedtalks 04:48
04:50

that LOLcats are the stupidest possible

tedtalks 04:50
04:52

creative act.

tedtalks 04:52
04:54

There are other candidates of course,

tedtalks 04:54
04:57

but LOLcats will do as a general case.

tedtalks 04:57
04:59

But here's the thing:

tedtalks 04:59
05:01

The stupidest possible creative act

tedtalks 05:01
05:04

is still a creative act.

tedtalks 05:04
05:07

Someone who has done something like this,

tedtalks 05:07
05:10

however mediocre and throwaway,

tedtalks 05:10
05:13

has tried something, has put something forward in public.

tedtalks 05:13
05:16

And once they've done it, they can do it again,

tedtalks 05:16
05:18

and they could work on getting it better.

tedtalks 05:18
05:21

There is a spectrum between mediocre work and good work,

tedtalks 05:21
05:24

and as anybody who's worked as an artist or a creator knows,

tedtalks 05:24
05:26

it's a spectrum you're constantly

tedtalks 05:26
05:28

struggling to get on top of.

tedtalks 05:28
05:30

The gap is between

tedtalks 05:30
05:33

doing anything and doing nothing.

tedtalks 05:33
05:35

And someone who makes a LOLcat

tedtalks 05:35
05:38

has already crossed over that gap.

tedtalks 05:38
05:40

Now it's tempting to want to get the Ushahidis

tedtalks 05:40
05:42

without the LOLcats, right,

tedtalks 05:42
05:45

to get the serious stuff without the throwaway stuff.

tedtalks 05:45
05:48

But media abundance never works that way.

tedtalks 05:48
05:51

Freedom to experiment means freedom to experiment with anything.

tedtalks 05:51
05:53

Even with the sacred printing press,

tedtalks 05:53
05:55

we got erotic novels 150 years

tedtalks 05:55
05:58

before we got scientific journals.

tedtalks 05:59
06:02

So before I talk about

tedtalks 06:02
06:04

what is, I think, the critical difference

tedtalks 06:04
06:06

between LOLcats and Ushahidi,

tedtalks 06:06
06:08

I want to talk about

tedtalks 06:08
06:10

their shared source.

tedtalks 06:10
06:13

And that source is design for generosity.

tedtalks 06:13
06:16

It is one of the curiosities of our historical era

tedtalks 06:16
06:18

that even as cognitive surplus

tedtalks 06:18
06:20

is becoming a resource we can design around,

tedtalks 06:20
06:23

social sciences are also starting to explain

tedtalks 06:23
06:25

how important

tedtalks 06:25
06:27

our intrinsic motivations are to us,

tedtalks 06:27
06:30

how much we do things because we like to do them

tedtalks 06:30
06:32

rather than because our boss told us to do them,

tedtalks 06:32
06:35

or because we're being paid to do them.

tedtalks 06:35
06:38

This is a graph from a paper

tedtalks 06:38
06:40

by Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini,

tedtalks 06:40
06:43

who set out to test, at the beginning of this decade,

tedtalks 06:43
06:45

what they called "deterrence theory."

tedtalks 06:45
06:47

And deterrence theory is a very simple theory of human behavior:

tedtalks 06:47
06:49

If you want somebody to do less of something,

tedtalks 06:49
06:51

add a punishment and they'll do less of it.

tedtalks 06:51
06:54

Simple, straightforward, commonsensical --

tedtalks 06:54
06:56

also, largely untested.

tedtalks 06:56
06:58

And so they went and studied

tedtalks 06:58
07:00

10 daycare centers in Haifa, Israel.

tedtalks 07:00
07:02

They studied those daycare centers

tedtalks 07:02
07:04

at the time of highest tension,

tedtalks 07:04
07:06

which is pick-up time.

tedtalks 07:06
07:08

At pick-up time the teachers,

tedtalks 07:08
07:10

who have been with your children all day,

tedtalks 07:10
07:13

would like you to be there at the appointed hour to take your children back.

tedtalks 07:13
07:16

Meanwhile, the parents -- perhaps a little busy at work, running late, running errands --

tedtalks 07:16
07:19

want a little slack to pick the kids up late.

tedtalks 07:19
07:21

So Gneezy and Rustichini said,

tedtalks 07:21
07:23

"How many instances of late pick-ups

tedtalks 07:23
07:25

are there at these 10 daycare centers?"

tedtalks 07:25
07:27

Now they saw -- and this is what the graph is,

tedtalks 07:27
07:30

these are the number of weeks and these are the number of late arrivals --

tedtalks 07:30
07:32

that there were between six and 10

tedtalks 07:32
07:34

instances of late pick-ups

tedtalks 07:34
07:36

on average in these 10 daycare centers.

tedtalks 07:36
07:39

So they divided the daycare centers into two groups.

tedtalks 07:39
07:41

The white group there

tedtalks 07:41
07:44

is the control group; they change nothing.

tedtalks 07:44
07:47

But the group of daycare centers represented by the black line,

tedtalks 07:47
07:49

they said, "We are changing this bargain

tedtalks 07:49
07:51

as of right now.

tedtalks 07:51
07:53

If you pick your kid up more than 10 minutes late,

tedtalks 07:53
07:55

we're going to add a 10 shekel fine to your bill.

tedtalks 07:55
07:58

Boom. No ifs, ands or buts."

tedtalks 07:58
08:00

And the minute they did that,

tedtalks 08:00
08:02

the behavior in those daycare centers changed.

tedtalks 08:02
08:04

Late pick-ups went up

tedtalks 08:04
08:07

every week for the next four weeks

tedtalks 08:07
08:10

until they topped out at triple the pre-fine average,

tedtalks 08:10
08:12

and then they fluctuated

tedtalks 08:12
08:14

at between double and triple the pre-fine average

tedtalks 08:14
08:16

for the life of the fine.

tedtalks 08:16
08:19

And you can see immediately what happened, right?

tedtalks 08:20
08:22

The fine broke the culture

tedtalks 08:22
08:24

of the daycare center.

tedtalks 08:24
08:26

By adding a fine,

tedtalks 08:26
08:28

what they did was communicate to the parents

tedtalks 08:28
08:30

that their entire debt to the teachers

tedtalks 08:30
08:32

had been discharged

tedtalks 08:32
08:34

with the payment of 10 shekels,

tedtalks 08:34
08:37

and that there was no residue of guilt or social concern

tedtalks 08:37
08:39

that the parents owed the teachers.

tedtalks 08:39
08:41

And so the parents, quite sensibly, said,

tedtalks 08:41
08:43

"10 shekels to pick my kid up late?

tedtalks 08:43
08:45

What could be bad?"

tedtalks 08:45
08:47

(Laughter)

tedtalks 08:49
08:51

The explanation of human behavior

tedtalks 08:51
08:54

that we inherited in the 20th century

tedtalks 08:54
08:57

was that we are all rational, self-maximizing actors,

tedtalks 08:57
08:59

and in that explanation --

tedtalks 08:59
09:02

the daycare center had no contract --

tedtalks 09:02
09:05

should have been operating without any constraints.

tedtalks 09:05
09:07

But that's not right.

tedtalks 09:07
09:09

They were operating with social constraints

tedtalks 09:09
09:11

rather than contractual ones.

tedtalks 09:11
09:13

And critically, the social constraints

tedtalks 09:13
09:16

created a culture that was more generous

tedtalks 09:16
09:18

than the contractual constraints did.

tedtalks 09:18
09:21

So Gneezy and Rustichini run this experiment for a dozen weeks --

tedtalks 09:21
09:23

run the fine for a dozen weeks --

tedtalks 09:23
09:26

and then they say, "Okay, that's it. All done; fine."

tedtalks 09:26
09:28

And then a really interesting thing happens:

tedtalks 09:28
09:31

Nothing changes.

tedtalks 09:31
09:34

The culture that got broken by the fine

tedtalks 09:34
09:37

stayed broken when the fine was removed.

tedtalks 09:37
09:40

Not only are economic motivations

tedtalks 09:40
09:42

and intrinsic motivations

tedtalks 09:42
09:44

incompatible,

tedtalks 09:44
09:46

that incompatibility

tedtalks 09:46
09:49

can persist over long periods.

tedtalks 09:49
09:51

So the trick

tedtalks 09:51
09:53

in designing these kinds of situations

tedtalks 09:53
09:56

is to understand where you're relying on

tedtalks 09:56
09:59

the economic part of the bargain -- as with the parents paying the teachers --

tedtalks 09:59
10:02

and when you're relying on the social part of the bargain,

tedtalks 10:02
10:05

when you're really designing for generosity.

tedtalks 10:05
10:08

This brings me back to the LOLcats

tedtalks 10:08
10:10

and to Ushahidi.

tedtalks 10:10
10:12

This is, I think, the range that matters.

tedtalks 10:12
10:14

Both of these rely on cognitive surplus.

tedtalks 10:14
10:16

Both of these design for the assumption

tedtalks 10:16
10:19

that people like to create and we want to share.

tedtalks 10:19
10:22

Here is the critical difference between these:

tedtalks 10:24
10:27

LOLcats is communal value.

tedtalks 10:27
10:29

It's value created by the participants

tedtalks 10:29
10:31

for each other.

tedtalks 10:31
10:34

Communal value on the networks we have

tedtalks 10:34
10:36

is everywhere --

tedtalks 10:36
10:38

every time you see a large aggregate

tedtalks 10:38
10:41

of shared, publicly available data,

tedtalks 10:41
10:43

whether it's photos on Flickr

tedtalks 10:43
10:45

or videos on Youtube or whatever.

tedtalks 10:45
10:47

This is good. I like LOLcats as much as the next guy,

tedtalks 10:47
10:49

maybe a little more even,

tedtalks 10:49
10:52

but this is also

tedtalks 10:52
10:54

a largely solved problem.

tedtalks 10:54
10:56

I have a hard time envisioning a future

tedtalks 10:56
10:58

in which someone is saying,

tedtalks 10:58
11:00

"Where, oh where, can I find a picture

tedtalks 11:00
11:02

of a cute cat?"

tedtalks 11:02
11:04

Ushahidi, by contrast,

tedtalks 11:04
11:06

is civic value.

tedtalks 11:06
11:08

It's value created by the participants

tedtalks 11:08
11:10

but enjoyed by society as a whole.

tedtalks 11:10
11:12

The goals set out by Ushahidi

tedtalks 11:12
11:14

are not just to make life better

tedtalks 11:14
11:16

for the participants,

tedtalks 11:16
11:19

but to make life better for everyone in the society

tedtalks 11:19
11:21

in which Ushahidi is operating.

tedtalks 11:21
11:24

And that kind of civic value

tedtalks 11:24
11:26

is not just a side effect

tedtalks 11:26
11:29

of opening up to human motivation.

tedtalks 11:29
11:31

It really is going to be a side effect

tedtalks 11:31
11:33

of what we, collectively,

tedtalks 11:33
11:36

make of these kinds of efforts.

tedtalks 11:36
11:38

There are a trillion

tedtalks 11:38
11:40

hours a year

tedtalks 11:40
11:42

of participatory value

tedtalks 11:42
11:44

up for grabs.

tedtalks 11:44
11:47

That will be true year-in and year-out.

tedtalks 11:47
11:49

The number of people who are going to be able

tedtalks 11:49
11:51

to participate in these kinds of projects

tedtalks 11:51
11:53

is going to grow,

tedtalks 11:53
11:56

and we can see that organizations

tedtalks 11:56
11:58

designed around a culture of generosity

tedtalks 11:58
12:00

can achieve incredible effects

tedtalks 12:00
12:03

without an enormous amount of contractual overhead --

tedtalks 12:03
12:05

a very different model

tedtalks 12:05
12:08

than our default model for large-scale group action in the 20th century.

tedtalks 12:09
12:12

What's going to make the difference here

tedtalks 12:12
12:15

is what Dean Kamen said,

tedtalks 12:15
12:17

the inventor and entrepreneur.

tedtalks 12:17
12:20

Kamen said, "Free cultures get what they celebrate."

tedtalks 12:21
12:24

We've got a choice before us.

tedtalks 12:24
12:26

We've got this trillion hours a year.

tedtalks 12:26
12:29

We can use it to crack each other up, and we're going to do that.

tedtalks 12:29
12:31

That, we get for free.

tedtalks 12:31
12:33

But we can also celebrate

tedtalks 12:33
12:35

and support and reward the people

tedtalks 12:35
12:37

trying to use cognitive surplus

tedtalks 12:37
12:39

to create civic value.

tedtalks 12:39
12:42

And to the degree we're going to do that, to the degree we're able to do that,

tedtalks 12:42
12:44

we'll be able to change society.

tedtalks 12:44
12:46

Thank you very much.