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There's this great plugin to Mozilla Firefox called StumbleUpon. It's a very dangerous tool, one which can lock you into sitting in front of the web browser for hours upon hours. With a single mouse click, you're whisked away to a completely random, but interesting, site on the internet on any possible topic.

It works by people submitting links they think are cool. From these submissions, a huge network of links is built, and anyone who clicks "Stumble" performs a random lookup into this network, and redirects to the link found.

The interesting thing about Stumble is that it perfectly illustrates a computational problem.

The problem: Build an enormous directory of interesting links on the Internet. Find at least 90% of all possible links. -- How do you do this? By hand? Takes too long. Computationally? Sure, but also takes a long time and it's difficult to specify what is interesting.

The solution: Deploy a million different tiny "bots" on the Internet, allow them to be programmed with a fundamental sense of what is "interesting", and let them spread randomly all over the Internet. Like a huge community of ants, they swarm all over the place, searching randomly for "interesting" sites; and when one is found, they add a link to the site in the global directory so others can find their way there.

The users of StumbleUpon are just like this huge ant stack. We swarm all over the internet, and when we come upon something interesting, we submit it. Very little central processing is performed, the search method is completely random, and it relies on hordes of totally nitwit, ignorant users to build it. It illustrates perfectly how a lot of tiny bots programmed to do very simple tasks can effectively accomplish goals with an arbitrary level of success -- a method which has been used by Nature for a long time: ants and bees are the famous examples.

I just don't know how I feel about being reduced to a randomly distributed bot.


At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take it heaven must be on interesting discovery .... but how can one with your apparently refinded computer skills find yourself remotely affected by this......should you not gaze upon an idea like this as a feeble attempt by someone to make life interesting.... they are the "pee ons" and you are god....
p.s. I am the voice of one calling out in the wilderness...

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Mats Gefvert said...

Why would StumbleUpon be a "feeble attempt to make life interesting"? It touches upon a part of computer theory and self-organizing networks which is a field that interests me very much.

My computer skills are not that extensive. There is an enormous lot of extraordinarily talented people out there putting together things that blow my mind every day.


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