In the fight against ‘wicked’ problems, computers may be humans’ best allies. Researchers from the Human Computation Institute and Cornell University say that the combination would create a superintelligence, and it could take on growing issues like climate change and geopolitical conflict. New technologies use crowd-sourced input and interactive tools to produce collaborative results that go beyond traditional problem-solving, they claim.

Wicked problems are those which are difficult to solve because of the complexity of the underlying issues. They involve many interacting systems which are always changing, and the solutions have unforeseen consequences, according to the Human Computation Institute. By joining with computer intelligence, humans could expand upon their own abilities to create ‘multidimensional collaborative networks,’ the researchers say. This could more effectively produce solutions.

In human computation systems, data are processed by a computer and also analysed by humans. Current systems of this type rely on individually completed ‘micro-tasks,’ which are later stitched together for a final result. New technologies aim to approach wicked problems where micro-tasking alone fails, breaching the traditional limits.

While humans outperform machines in certain tasks, like pattern recognition and creative abstraction, combining the two intelligences could make for unprecedented approach to global problems. One Cornell program,, uses human computation to map global conservation efforts. In this interactive platform, participants can build upon each other’s work. ‘By sharing and observing practices in a map-based social network, people can begin to relate their individual efforts to the global conservation potential of living and working landscapes,’ says Janis Dickinson, Professor and Director of Citizen Science at the Cornell lab of Ornithology.

At HCI, crowd input is also being used to make research more efficient. Cornell-based Alzheimer’s research on is produced through an interactive tool, in which users play a game to help analyse data. ‘By enabling members of the general public to play some simple online game, we expect to reduce the time to treatment discovery from the decades to just a few years,’ says HCI director and lead author, Dr. Pietro Michelucci. ‘This gives an opportunity for anyone, including the tech-savvy generation of caregivers and early stage AD patients, to take the matter into their own hands.’