"All of us together are smarter than any one of us alone," social-media pioneer Anil Dash said when asked why the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has launched Expert Labs. An independent effort to enhance the policy-making process, Expert Labs will leverage and extend new social networking platforms – a technological realm popularized by public systems such as Facebook and Twitter.
"There has been a lot of attention on how the government is using new technology to talk to citizens," Dash added. "Expert Labs is about making technology that helps government listen to citizens."
Such technologies have the potential to "make our government better, make our society better, advance scientific research, and make people feel more connected to those social institutions that serve them," said Dash.
Dash will announce the Expert Labs project 18 November during a keynote address at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City.
Dash credited AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of Science, with coining the term "cloud expertise" to explain how Expert Labs will help policy-makers harness the wisdom of crowds – particularly the expertise of scientists, technologists, and other citizens with specialized knowledge on key topics.
"Opening government up to a broad array of expertise is the next logical step in improving American policy-making," Leshner said. "The goal of the Expert Labs initiative is to help policy-makers tap into the full spectrum of insights on critical issues, using technology to encourage the broadest possible participation by citizens."
Expert Labs – supported by a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – will be directed by Dash, who helped to found the pioneering blogging-software company, Six Apart. He is the publisher of an influential blog at Dashes.com.
Dash said that the new initiative's name reflects its goal of bringing three distinct communities of experts together: "We're going to tap into the expertise of the policy community to identify what questions need to be answered," he explained. "We're going to tap into the technology community to collaboratively build platforms that help get those questions answered, and finally, we'll tap into the science and technology communities to provide the answers themselves."
Policy-makers could use social networking to solicit expert input on draft legislation, Dash noted, just as Internet users now routinely use technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail to poll friends before making household purchases. Ultimately, he said, Expert Labs will help to incubate new technology platforms for capturing and sharing expertise on emerging policies on almost any issue, from science and technology, to public health, and more.
Leshner described the effort as a perfect fit for the non-partisan, non-profit AAAS, which seeks to promote the effective use of science in public policy while also enhancing communication among scientists, engineers, and the public. The MacArthur Foundation provided initial project support, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has agreed to provide input on possible science and technology test cases.
Expert Labs will develop innovative solutions for sharing expertise by adapting some of the best techniques from technology startups and venture capital firms to help meet the needs of policy-makers and government agencies.
For example, Dash said, his team probably will take a closer look at successful technology models such as the Obvious corporation, an incubator that gave rise to the Web site now known as Twitter, and YCombinator, a support system for venture capitalists.
Other relevant model technologies may include the Peer-to-Patent project, which helps encourage collaborative information-sharing related to patents, and a digital arts system called Eyebeam, which has effectively helped activists to express themselves. Representing yet another approach, the Knight News Challenge supports the development of news technologies that may have commercial applications, Dash noted.
Leshner expressed enthusiasm for Dash's leadership of the new initiative. "Anil brings tremendous know-how to the Expert Labs challenge because he's such a well-recognized expert on Web technology, Web culture, and the software industry," he said. "His reputation as an advocate for social Web technologies makes him a perfect fit for helping policy-makers connect to experts by using those same technologies."
A recognized pioneer in blogging and social networking, Dash said that his experience shows how "technology change is also cultural change and societal change." Key to the challenge, he said, will be successfully rallying his fellow Web innovators to contribute their creative problem-solving skills to Expert Labs. As an incentive, development grants will be available, he added.
He encouraged anyone interested in tracking Expert Labs to log onto the site at www.expertlabs.org after it goes live at 2:30 pm ET Wednesday, 18 November, and register for updates via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail.
"You don't have to work for the government to work for your country," Dash said. "Technologies that make our lives richer and make it more fun to connect to our friends, like social networking, also have practical uses in solving some of the biggest challenges that face society."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org) and Science Signaling (www.sciencesignaling.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
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