Bioethics Blogs

Epilepsy Research Benefits from the Crowd

BrainFor millions of people with epilepsy, life comes with too many restrictions. If they just had a reliable way to predict when their next seizure will come, they could have a chance at leading more independent and productive lives.

That’s why it is so encouraging to hear that researchers have developed a new algorithm that can predict the onset of a seizure correctly 82 percent of the time. Until recently, the best algorithm was hardly better than flipping a coin, leading some to speculate that seizures are random neurological events that can’t be predicted at all. But the latest leap forward shows that seizures certainly can be predicted, and our research efforts are headed in the right direction to make them even more predictable. The other big news is how this new algorithm was developed: it’s the product of a crowdsourcing competition.

Crowdsourcing builds on the recognition among software developers in the mid-1980s that a crowd of users, not just the guy writing code in a cubicle, often knows best how to design existing products or work out the bugs in existing ones. As the credibility of the crowd has grown in recent years, an initial wave of biological crowdsourcing competitions has appeared online. The competitions often pit mathematicians, computer scientists, and other capable big-data crunchers against each other or organized into teams.  Their challenge is to solve a problem to which many often arrive at their computer screens short on expertise but long on innovative ideas to cut through the complexity. For organizers, the key is to model the right problems that lend themselves to crowdsourcing, attract the right teams, and offer the right incentives for them to drill down to an answer.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.