Aniket (Niki) Kittur, a professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. (CMU Photo)

This week on the GeekWire Podcast, we explore the frontier of crowd-augmented cognition, the concept of humans working together with the help of technology, including new ways that artificial intelligence is changing the field.

Our guest is Aniket (Niki) Kittur, a professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where his research focuses on new methods of augmenting human intellect using crowds and computation.

We also talk about a related project that Kittur and his colleagues developed called Skeema, a browser tab manager that helped users organize their work, projects, and ultimately their brains in the process.

Listen below, or subscribe to GeekWire in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Continue reading for highlights from Kittur’s comments, edited for context and clarity.

The focus of Kittur’s research: My lab is really interested in how we help people make sense of overwhelming information. Online, we’re constantly bombarded with all sorts of information that we have to make sense of.

We’re looking at how we take what people are good at, and what machines are good at, and put those together to help us understand, make decisions, and be creative with that information, better than we can alone.

Studying crowdsourcing movements like Wikipedia and Mechanical Turk: We’ve been looking at these very different ways of how we can put people together to go beyond what they’re capable of alone, and how you create these architectures that combine people with machines, and the right ways to do that.

AI and human creativity: We have one project, working with Toyota, to help their automotive designers be more creative … and we’re using AI there to help them find inspirations from very different fields, such as how a crow flaps its wings and creates vortices that stabilize its flight path. Can you use that for better mobility in different situations? We use AI to unlock those things that are hard for people to think of, and then pull those into the domain that the designer is trying to solve.

How the Skeema browser tab organizer fits into the lab’s work: The vision in my work is, how we create a force in the world that can start to stitch information back together, stitch it back into knowledge, so that we can constantly be improving and learning faster, being more innovative, solving the problems we need to solve.

Skeema is one step in that direction. Skeema right now is a very individual thing, where you’re taking the fragmented information in your browser and trying to pull it together and make it useful for yourself. But imagine that we can start to connect people who are pulling this together, and [help them] build on other things.

Large language models and the human brain: If you look at the brain, it’s not made up of just one type of thing. It’s actually a collection of lots of different components. Our memory works in a certain way, it’s super-parallel, but our ability to reason is super-serial, and can only hold a few things. And we put those together, along with vision and all these other modules that work in different ways.

So why don’t we think about this as, at a larger scale, an information-processing problem? And LLMs are definitely one of those that have different characteristics that we can put together to help us with our human goals.

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Audio editing and production by Curt Milton.

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